From 1 to 10 September 2016 decision makers from 184 countries met in Hawaii to discuss current conservation challenges and solutions at the IUCN World Conservation Congress. The congress, which is held every four years, had as its theme this year ‘Planet at the Crossroads’. Major announcements included the assignment of the whale shark and the winghead shark (a species of hammerhead) to Endangered species status on the updated IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. According to this new listing, the populations of these species have more than halved in the past 75 years.
The Red List is a global assessment of species’ conservation status that indicates a relative scale of threat – from Least Concern to Critically Endangered – and these updates signal where serious intervention is needed to prevent a species from going extinct. Continued declines in whale shark numbers are linked to fisheries by-catch and ship strikes, while winghead sharks are prone to getting entangled in fishing nets. The change in listing is of major concern and should push conservationists and fisheries managers to mitigate threats.
Other marine conservation issues were also in the spotlight, with angel sharks, sawfishes and tunas featuring in discussions. Fourteen new Hope Spots – regions deemed of high priority for protection – were jointly announced by the IUCN and Mission Blue. IUCN members also supported a call for the listing of the silky shark, three species of thresher shark and nine species of mobula ray on Appendix II of CITES. The support of the IUCN on this issue is an endorsement of the high priority of the proposal.