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WCO celebrates World Wildlife Day 2019 - Life below water: for people and planet

01 marzo 2019

The World Customs Organization (WCO) joins its international partners in celebrating World Wildlife Day 2019, and pledges its continuing support to its close partner, the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), whose admirable work in protecting our planet’s biodiversity is unrelenting.

The third of March marks a special day on the international community’s calendar, a day to remind us all of the importance of preserving our planet, and the responsibility that is borne by Customs as a key law enforcement player at borders in deterring criminals who live off the ill-gotten gains generated by wildlife trafficking.

For the year 2019, the United Nations (UN) has chosen to focus on one of the most mysterious wildlife groups: marine species. With the theme “Life below water: for people and planet,” the UN aims to draw attention to an environmental space that too many consider to have inexhaustible resources.

Although our oceans are believed to shelter millions of species, of which nearly 200,000 have been identified, 40% of this space is overexploited, notwithstanding pollution, loss of coastal habitat, and the impact of climate change.

Overexploitation and environmental degradation not only severely impact the health of marine life, they also affect the three billion people who depend on the ocean’s resources for their livelihood. With rising living standards, more people demand fresh fish at home. Yet this fish may be illegally sourced on the other side of the planet.

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing undermines governmental efforts to preserve and manage fish stocks responsibly, and deprives them of a revenue gain if the commodity had been legally sourced. It also deprives the fishing community which abides by the law and is mindful of the importance of oceanic resources for its livelihood.

Some species are purposefully targeted for illegal trade. Protected species such as sharks and turtles are still widely consumed as delicacies. Abalone is heavily poached and illegally traded through sophisticated modi operandi by organized crime syndicates that take advantage of weak legislation in non-abalone trading countries. Despite its legal trade, 96 million abalone were poached between 2006 and 2016.

Other species are poached for the pet and aquarium trade, such as exotic fishes, corals, turtles, and even sharks. An estimated 37 million seahorses are taken from the wild every year for medicinal purposes, aquariums, or decorative ornaments. Such depletion of marine resources is clearly unsustainable.

“Ensuring that trade is legal at every stage of the chain is a duty not only for Customs, but for the wider international community,” said WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya. “With a focus on marine life in 2019, Customs officers across the globe are called upon to play their part in combating all forms of ocean-related crime to give effect to the aims of this year’s World Wildlife Day.”

Data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows that fish captured illegally amount to some 26 million tons, or up to 23 billion US dollars annually. “These figures speak volumes, spurring Customs administrations to act decisively against this illegal trade, given their strategic location at borders and the control they exert over entry and exit points,” Secretary General Mikuriya emphasized.

“Indeed, WCO Members are lead players at borders, ensuring compliance with the provisions of the CITES Convention that not only protects biodiversity, but also people’s jobs and national economies”, he added. “The WCO therefore urges the Customs community to collaborate and share information with its partners, whilst making full use of all relevant WCO tools designed to combat wildlife crime.”

As an active member of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), and under the framework of its INAMA Project, the WCO, through its Environment Programme, has made combating wildlife crime a priority, and this will be reiterated during the upcoming session of the WCO Enforcement Committee that is scheduled to meet from 11 to 15 March 2019.

All WCO Members and Customs’ partners are encouraged to join forces to ensure the achievement of a successful “blue economy,” which, at its core, means the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, more jobs, and a healthy oceanic ecosystem.