COP14 - What to Expect for Migratory Aquatic Species

Of the migratory species listed under the Convention on Migratory Species, 64 are aquatic mammals, 54 are fish, and 9 are reptiles, covering many diverse species such as whales, sharks, and turtles. Their migratory ranges include rivers, estuaries, beaches, seagrass meadows, coral reefs, coastal zones, the open ocean, deep-water trenches, and seamounts - to name but a few. They occur in all climatic zones, all oceans, and many inland water systems. The threats they face are manifold and include overexploitation, habitat loss and degradation, pollution, and climate change.

Aquatic Priority Topics at COP14

Among the topics to be discussed by governments at the CMS COP14 in Samarkand are several relating specifically to aquatic migratory species, along with cross-cutting issues crucial for the conservation of a wide range of species listed under the Convention on Migratory Species. These topics include overexploitation, pollution (including noise pollution), deep-sea mining, vessel strikes, and area-based conservation tools, among others.

Overexploitation

Among the drivers of biodiversity loss, overexploitation of natural resources is one of the most direct and pervasive, affecting both target and non-target species across all ocean regions.

COP14 will specifically address fisheries-induced mortality as a key aspect of overexploitation of marine species listed in the CMS Appendices. It will examine the root causes and explore several Action Plans for the conservation of species at risk from overexploitation.

COP14 will be considering two documents directly related to the topic of overexploitation of marine migratory species. These include:

In addition, COP14 will be presented with three new Single Species Action Plans (SSAPs) developed for threatened marine species heavily affected by overexploitation:

Lahille's Bottlenose Dolphin © Els Vermeulen

Fisheries-induced mortality (including bycatch) 

Over one-third of all sharks, rays, and chimaeras are threatened with extinction, according to the IUCN Red List, primarily due to overfishing. One of the key threats to marine migratory species is fisheries-induced mortality. Although fisheries management lies outside the scope of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), the Convention plays a crucial role in ensuring that strategies to avoid or mitigate this type of mortality remain a priority in relevant forums. It also ensures that CMS Parties and other stakeholders are equipped with the necessary information to more effectively tackle the issue of overfishing.

In this context, Parties at COP14 will be considering technical mitigation techniques aimed at reducing the incidental or non-targeted capture of sharks and rays in fisheries, commonly known as bycatch. The guidance is a complement to existing CMS recommendations designed to decrease marine mammal bycatch and entanglement in commercial fishing gear, which were agreed at COP13.

Parties at COP14 will consider the impact of fishing activities on shark and ray populations more holistically, shifting their focus to include both targeted and incidental catches, rather than solely evaluating fisheries-induced mortality through bycatch. This approach encourages a comprehensive assessment of the impact of fishing activities on these species. The COP14 document and draft decision highlight the importance of considering both targeted take and incidental catch in evaluating the full extent of fisheries-induced mortality. (see COP14 Document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc. 27.1.1/Rev.1).

Aquatic Wild Meat 

COP14 will consider the issue of aquatic wild meat exploitation, alongside terrestrial and avian wild meat. Aquatic wild animals, such as aquatic mammals, marine turtles, crocodiles, sharks, and rays, are hunted or taken opportunistically. Their meat, body parts, and/or eggs are consumed for local subsistence or used for traditional purposes worldwide. In some cases, this has led to illegal and/or unsustainable exploitation of species listed by CMS. To address this growing concern, CMS COP12 established the Aquatic Wild Meat Working Group (AWMWG) to enhance the CMS knowledge base and support international policy discussions on this issue. Following a mandate from COP13, the Working Group, with several stakeholders, has developed an Action Plan for West African countries, where aquatic wild meat harvesting is prevalent. The draft West African Aquatic Wild Meat Action Plan recommends increasing research into consumption patterns and sustainable management strategies, implementing policies, promoting awareness, and encouraging alternative income sources, such as sustainable tourism.

At COP14, CMS Parties will review the work of the Working Group, including a proposed Resolution, Decisions, and the draft West African Aquatic Wild Meat Action Plan, all aimed at mitigating the threats posed by aquatic wild meat exploitation. (see COP14 Document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc. 30.1.2/Rev.3).

Single Species Action Plan for the Hawksbill Turtle  

The Single Species Action Plan (SSAP) for the Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) in South-East Asia and the Western Pacific Ocean Region will be considered for adoption by CMS Parties at COP14. Developed in collaboration with a range of organizations and stakeholders, the plan is designed to address the trade and use of these turtles within the area comprehensively. It aims to integrate necessary actions at both domestic and international levels, assisting governments in fulfilling their commitments under CMS, the IOSEA Marine Turtle MOU, CITES, and other relevant frameworks. Adopted by four Range States as of 2022 following its negotiation, the SSAP identifies urgent high-priority actions and provides a framework for their implementation. Once adopted, it is expected to serve as a crucial tool for coordinating conservation efforts, enhancing awareness, and mobilizing resources to more effectively combat the trade and use of Hawksbill Turtles in the region.

The draft Resolution at COP14 recommends that CMS Parties adopt the SSAP, urges all Range States to implement its provisions, and invites non-Party Range States to consider its adoption. It also encourages support from relevant organizations and other key stakeholders in these conservation efforts. (see COP14 Document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc. 27.6.2/Rev.1).

Single Species Action Plan for the Atlantic Humpback Dolphin 

The Atlantic Humpback Dolphin (Sousa teuszii) is listed on CMS Appendices I and II and has been assessed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Following a Concerted Action (12.3, revised at COP13), a draft Single Species Action Plan (SSAP) for the Atlantic Humpback Dolphin was developed. Supported by the Government of Monaco, the SSAP aims to mitigate human-induced threats to the dolphins and their habitats, focusing on research, awareness-raising, capacity building, and conservation action. With fewer than 3,000 individuals in fragmented populations remaining along the Atlantic coast of Africa, the species is endangered by expanding fishing sectors, coastal development, and habitat degradation. The primary threats include bycatch in widespread gillnet fisheries, hunting, and habitat loss, all of which call for urgent conservation measures. (see COP14 Document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc. 27.5.2/Rev.2).

Single Species Action Plan for the Angelshark  

The Angelshark (Squatina squatina) in the Mediterranean Sea is critically endangered due to extensive exploitation, habitat destruction, and declining population trends, prompting urgent conservation measures. This species is listed in Appendices I and II of the CMS. Additionally, a Concerted Action for the species was approved and later updated and extended at CMS COP13.

To halt the decline of the Angelshark, listed in Appendix I, in the Mediterranean Sea region, a Single Species Action Plan (SSAP) was developed. The draft SSAP outlines a clear plan for its Range States to improve the conservation status of the species. It highlights legislative measures, fisheries management, research, awareness-raising, and stakeholder collaboration as priority activities. The plan emphasizes the need for active participation from all Mediterranean Range States, as well as bodies such as the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM).

The draft Resolution presented at COP14 recommends the adoption of the new SSAP for the Angelshark in the Mediterranean. It urges Parties, non-Party Range States, and all relevant stakeholders to collaborate actively in implementing the plan. (see COP14 Document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc. 27.7.1). 

Angleshark © Michael Sealey

Area-based Conservation

COP14 will consider a number of marine area-based conservation tools and initiatives aimed at conserving critical habitats for CMS-listed aquatic species. These initiatives are crucial for achieving the Convention's central goal of habitat conservation. They also support the implementation of Target 3 of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), which seeks to effectively conserve and manage 30% of terrestrial, inland water, and of coastal and marine areas by 2030, known as the 30x30 target. The agenda will include four separate items addressing this important issue:

Important Marine Mammal Areas

Important Marine Mammal Areas (IMMAs) are area-based conservation measures developed for aquatic mammals by the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force. CMS Parties have recognized the significance of IMMAs for aquatic mammal conservation through decisions made at previous Conferences of the Parties (COPs). These decisions encourage Parties to consider IMMAs in identifying at-risk habitats and designing mitigation measures for specific threats. Specifically, CMS Parties are urged to utilize IMMAs in designating marine protected areas for CMS-listed species such as pinnipeds, sirenians, otters, polar bears, and cetaceans. Since COP13 in 2020, the creation of new IMMAs has provided an additional framework for protecting many more CMS-listed species. IMMAs and similar area-based conservation measures can also provide important inputs to the forthcoming Agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ Treaty). (see COP14 Document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc. 27.4.1/)

Important Shark and Ray Areas

Under CMS, the initiative to identify Important Shark and Ray Areas (ISRAs) is gaining momentum. Led by the Shark Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, this initiative aims to pinpoint critical habitats for sharks to enhance area-based conservation and management efforts worldwide.

Sharks rank as the second most endangered group of marine taxa globally, surpassed only by amphibians. With over a third of shark and ray species on the brink of extinction due to overfishing, habitat loss, and climate change, the need for urgent conservation action is paramount, particularly for those species that are migratory. These species' long lifespans, low natural abundance, and high susceptibility to fishing pressures exacerbate their risk, making fisheries and trade management measures alone inadequate. An area-based conservation approach is therefore essential for protecting populations from fishing pressures and habitat changes, aiming to reverse their decline.

ISRAs are important for environmental impact assessments and marine spatial planning, guiding international, regional, national, and local conservation efforts. They are key to implementing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and safeguarding vulnerable shark species worldwide, especially as current localized protections are insufficient given their rapidly declining conservation status.

At COP14, Parties will consider a draft Resolution and Draft Decisions focused on ISRAs. Among other recommendations, these documents will urge Parties to utilize ISRAs in establishing protected areas and other marine spatial planning endeavors to support the conservation of CMS-listed sharks and rays. (see COP14 Document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc. 27.4.2/Rev.1/).

Seagrass ecosystems are of critical importance for many migratory marine species and local communities © B. Jones

Seagrass Ecosystems

Seagrass ecosystems are critically important for many migratory marine species, including dugongs, marine turtles, and sharks. They play a fundamental role in global fisheries production, serving as valuable nursery habitats for over one-fifth of the world’s largest 25 fisheries. Seagrasses, marine flowering plants found in shallow waters around the world, form extensive underwater meadows that create complex, productive, and biologically rich habitats.

The significance of seagrass ecosystems as productive and biodiversity-rich habitats has been widely recognized. In 2022, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming 1 March as World Seagrass Day. To further support global efforts to protect seagrass ecosystems, CMS Parties will review a draft Resolution and Draft Decision at COP14, which highlight the critical role of seagrass ecosystems for migratory species.

CMS Parties are urged to recognize seagrass ecosystems as vital habitats for migratory marine species, such as dugongs, marine turtles, and sharks, and to enhance conservation and restoration efforts for these key habitats. Parties are also encouraged to implement legal and regulatory measures, engage in regular monitoring and research, and raise awareness to support seagrass conservation. (see COP14 Document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc. 27.4.3/).

Vessel Strikes

COP14 will address the growing impact of vessel strikes (often referred to as ship strikes) on marine megafauna, including marine mammals, marine turtles, sharks, and rays. With the expanding use of global ocean waters by commercial, recreational, and other vessels, there is an increasing need for Parties to take actions to better understand and mitigate the adverse effects of vessel strikes on migratory marine species.

Parties will be considering a draft Resolution and a draft Decisions on the topic as well as specific guidance for Whale Sharks. (see COP14 Document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc. 27.2.3/Rev.1).

The document provides an overview of the increasing impact of vessel strikes, particularly affecting species that spend much of their time at or near the surface. This includes filter-feeding sharks, mobulids (types of rays), and certain whale species, whose surface behaviors make them especially vulnerable to these threats.

In support of the expanding work on this topic, CMS Parties will consider a new report titled “Limiting Global Ship Strikes on Whale Sharks: Understanding an Increasing Threat to the World’s Largest Fish.” This report (refer to COP14 Inf Doc: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Inf.27.2.3) addresses the growing concern over ship strikes on whale sharks. It serves as the foundation for the Guidance on Reducing the Risk of Vessel Strikes for Whale Sharks (Rhincodon typus), which is annexed to the draft Resolution on Reducing the Risk of Vessel Strikes for Marine Megafauna. 

The study was conducted to support the Concerted Action for Whale Sharks, adopted at CMS COP13. It assessed the risk of collisions between whale sharks and vessels by analyzing shipping data and whale shark tagging data at their worldwide aggregation sites. The report includes maps that identify areas with significant risks of vessel strikes on whale sharks globally. It also offers recommendations for Parties on how to reduce the impact of vessel strikes on whale sharks.

Deep-Sea Mining

Deep-sea mining is the process of retrieving mineral deposits from the ocean floor below 200 meters. Numerous scientific papers have found that deep-sea mining could significantly impact migratory species and their prey. As set forth in the meeting document on this topic for COP14, deep-sea mining could negatively affect migratory species, including cetaceans, sharks, turtles, their habitats, and their prey. The environmental impacts could range from habitat destruction to injury or death of marine species caused by mining equipment. Additionally, toxic sedimentation, habitat loss or alteration, underwater noise, and light pollution may pose significant threats.

At COP14, Parties will consider a draft resolution and decision on this issue. These documents urge Parties to prioritize research on the potential negative effects of deep-sea mining on cetaceans and other migratory species and their habitats. They also encourage Parties to abstain from deep-sea mining activities until sufficient and robust scientific data are available. (see COP14 Document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc. 27.2.4/Rev.1)

Marine Wildlife Watching

COP14 will be considering new guidelines designed to assist CMS Parties in adopting domestic measures to better regulate recreational in-water interactions with marine wildlife, which have significantly grown since the 1990s. Although well-managed interactions can raise awareness, support conservation, and provide economic benefits, there are increasing concerns about their negative impacts on wildlife populations, broader ecological processes, animal welfare, and human safety.

While the guidelines do not cover all potential in-water interactions comprehensively, they offer a general overview of measures already adopted by some countries or recommended by scientists for several CMS-listed species. This includes cetaceans, sirenians, pinnipeds, marine turtles, sharks, mobulid rays, stingrays, and seabirds. If adopted by COP14, CMS Parties will be encouraged to utilize these guidelines, conducting their own impact assessments and consulting experts to tailor the guidelines to their unique local contexts effectively.

The draft guidelines were developed by the Secretariat with support from the Government of the Principality of Monaco, under the CMS Migratory Species Champion Programme. (see COP14 Document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc. 27.3.1/Rev.1).

CROSS-CUTTING ISSUES

A number of cross-cutting issues affecting a wide range of migratory species will also be discussed at COP14. Of particular relevance for the conservation of CMS aquatic species will be topics such as ecological connectivity, the widespread, unsustainable harvesting and consumption of wild animals (aquatic wild meat), climate change and animal culture.

Please see this dedicated page on COP14 Cross-Cutting Issues for more information (under preparation).

AQUATIC COP14 PROPOSALS TO AMEND THE APPENDICES

  • Proposal for the Inclusion of Lahille’s Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus gephyreus) in Appendix I and II of the Convention (see COP14 document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc.31.4.4
  • Proposal for the Inclusion of the Baltic Proper Population of the Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) in Appendix I of the Convention (see COP14 document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc.31.4.5
  • Proposal for the Inclusion of the Sand Tiger Shark (Carcharias taurus) in Appendix I and II of the Convention (see COP14 document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc.31.4.9/Rev.1
  • Proposal for the Inclusion of the Blackchin Guitarfish (Glaucostegus cemiculus) in Appendix II and the Mediterranean Sea Population of this Species in Appendix I of the Convention (see COP14 document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc.31.4.10
  • Proposal for the Inclusion of the Bull Ray (Aetomylaeus bovinus) in Appendix II and the Mediterranean Sea Population of this Species in Appendix I of the Convention (see COP14 document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc.31.4.11
  • Proposal for the Inclusion of the Lusitanian Cownose Ray (Rhinoptera marginata) in Appendix II and the Mediterranean Sea Population of this Species in Appendix I of the Convention (see COP14 document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc.31.4.12
  • Proposal for the Inclusion of the Gilded Catfish (Brachyplatystoma rousseauxii) in Appendix II of the Convention (see COP14 document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc.31.4.13
  • Proposal for the Inclusion of the Laulao Catfish or Piramuta (Brachyplatystoma vaillantii) in Appendix II of the Convention (see COP14 document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc.31.4.14

Concerted Actions

Parties at COP14 will be considering the proposals to adopt two new Concerted Actions for the following marine species:

  • Proposal for a Concerted Action for the Franciscana Dolphin (Pontoporia blainvillei) already listed in Appendix I and II of the Convention (see COP14 document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc.32.3.5
  • Proposal for a Concerted Action for the Blue Shark (Prionace glauca) already listed in Appendix II of the Convention (see COP14 document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc.32.3.7

CMS Parties are also being requested to consider the extension of existing Concerted Actions for the following marine species:

  • Proposal to extend the Concerted Action for the Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) of the Arabian Sea. (see COP14 document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc.32.2.3
  • Proposal to extend the Concerted Action for Sperm Whales (Physeter macrocephalus) of the Eastern Tropical Pacific (see COP14 document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc.32.2.4
  • Proposal to extend the Concerted Action for the Common Guitarfish (Rhinobatos rhinobatos) and the Bottlenose Wedgefish (Rhynchobatus australiae) (see COP14 document: UNEP/CMS/COP14/Doc.32.2.9

 

PLEASE NOTE: THE CONTENT ON THIS WEBPAGE ONLY PRESENTS A SELECTION OF THE TOPICS AND ISSUES BEING DISCUSSED BY CMS PARTIES AT COP14. PLEASE SEE THE COP14 ANNOTED AGENDA AND/OR THE COP14 DOCUMENTS PAGE FOR A MORE COMPREHENSIVE OVERVIEW.

 

About COP14:

The 14th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CMS COP14) to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals is scheduled to be held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, from February 12 to 17, 2024. As the Convention's main decision-making forum, CMS COP14 will bring together governments, scientists, and stakeholders to devise strategies for conserving migratory species and their habitats. This meeting is crucial for implementing the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (Biodiversity Plan), adopted in December 2022, and marks a significant global biodiversity event since its adoption (see a summary of most relevant aspects of the GBF to CMS).

At CMS COP14, participants will review new scientific data on threats and conservation priorities for migratory animals, contributing to the Biodiversity Plan's goals. The agenda includes over a hundred items, focusing on enhancing ecological connectivity, mitigating the impact of new infrastructure on migratory species, addressing overexploitation and climate change effects, and tackling emerging threats like light and noise pollution. The conference will also see the launch of several key publications, including the first-ever report on the ‘State of the World’s Migratory Species’, new globally applicable guidelines on light pollution, and best practices for linear infrastructure.

This UN wildlife conservation conference is notable for being the first COP of any global environmental treaty held in Central Asia, a region with extensive grasslands and mountains home to various migratory species, such as the Saiga Antelope, the snow leopard, and numerous migratory birds.

Additionally, associated events like the 54th Meeting of the CMS Standing Committee and the High-Level Segment will occur in the same venue on February 11. The Migratory Species Champion Night is scheduled for the evening of February 12, the opening day of COP14.

Last updated on 14 February 2024