Wildlife Protection and Illegal Activities at Sea

BALAN Gaëtan, PhD candidate, European Research Program Human Sea, Maritime and Oceanic Law Center, Univ. Nantes, France

Human activities are now recognised as having an impact on our environment and our global ecosystem. It is an essential condition of human viability taken on the long run. Our moral duty is thus to protect this natural legacy, because biodiversity is an essential part of life on our planet. The main international legal base for protection and preservation of wildlife diversity is the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) signed the 1st January 19731 . This convention protects endangered species against illegal trafficking and illegal capture. The main identified danger for the sustainability of biodiversity is illegal human activities including international wildlife trafficking.

This traffic exploits legal weaknesses of international legal framework to develop an illegal wildlife market. It is a major risk for the biodiversity if we don’t act to protect it through building a legal framework, a more thorough political engagement and potentially by creating new international mechanisms for wildlife protection. The 15th International Wildlife Law Conference2 took place during this emergency situation at the University of Grenada, Spain. This Conference gave an occasion to discuss the current situation of wildlife protection and legal repression of trafficking. All participants exposed their point of view and exchanged ideas. Debates resulted in the assertion that environmental protection is a global issue requiring a global approach.

Wildlife trafficking can be compared to international drug trafficking : logic and economic issues are comparable but for the legal risks which are negligible. The reality is that the consumerdemand of exotic animals and plants creates opportunities for traffickers. They use all illegal importation ways, for example maritime transport, to respond to this demand. This traffic exists because legal protection for species is not the same in all the countries of the world. It’s another legal weakness for wildlife international legal protection.

Compared to drug trafficking, legal risks to the first one are not actually serious but regulations of illegal activities at sea include this traffic. Smuggling of prohibited goods is not a new phenomenon and concerns all the states. This weakness of control benefits the development of a highly profitable market.  In this point of view, it appears necessary to have a real international legal framework about wildlife trafficking in order to fight it efficiently with the same legal bases and risks of penalty.

Control authorities can act against illegal trafficking only if states have legal competences for that. Currently, we can ask how legislations about this specific illegal trafficking can be applied. The answer is complex because each country has its own legislation about wildlife regulations. The rules of regional organisation can complete and support the national law about this problematic. The CITES convention aims at protecting the sustainably of endangered species at the international legal level. They give an exhaustive list of protect species with import prohibition or with importation limits. According to article VIII, States parties shall take appropriate measures to enforce the provisions of the Convention and to prohibit trade in specimens in violation thereof

The CITES convention tries to engage states to use or create all legal measures to guarantee preservation of natural life.  This raises the need to develop the legal framework for this issue and the project of convention for protection of biodiversity in High Sea3 goes in this sense. In the same way, we have a true political preoccupation to create maritime protected areas, which has to contend with economic limits. In fact, natural marine or land parks do not have enough logistics to protect their animals or plants resources. To be effective, authorities in charge of these areas need more economic and logistic support.

Today, the black market and contraband are real illegal economic activities inside occidental ports. The Police and Control authorities perform a global control but it’s impossible to check each part of this international trade. If we protect wildlife against this traffic and guarantee its integrity with a specific legal framework, we can hope to give this legacy to the next generations.

  1. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora,3 March 1973,entry in force 1st January 1975. Since 15 April 2015 European Union is part at this treaty. http://cites.org/eng []
  2. 15thInternational Wildlife Law Conference, 26-27 March  2015, University of Granada []
  3. Meeting of 20 au 23 Janury 2015 United Nations Organisation,  Y.Tephany  ”The Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity in High Seas” 3 February 2015, Research Notebook online, European Research Program Human Sea. []

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