Every four years, global delegates come together for the IUCN World Conservation Congress. During September 6-13, 2012, leaders from more than 150 countries descend upon Jeju, Korea, where priorities are guided by “Nature +,” the 2012 slogan.

While addressing myriad environmental issues, WCS and 35 partners draw attention to sharks and rays—denizens of the deep that are suffering from over-fishing. WCS has called for measures to improve fisheries management and conserve sharks and rays. Unlike bony fish, cartilaginous fish mature late and produce few offspring, which makes them particularly vulnerable to overfishing. Rising demands for shark fin soup put sharks in a particularly precarious position.

Dr. Rachel Graham, Director of WCS’s Gulf and Caribbean Sharks and Rays Program, explains the dangerous rise in demand for shark fin soup, “The high price for fins has caused the global shark fishery to expand far beyond what is sustainable. The need for international regulation and enforcement has never been greater.”

In addition to promoting better-managed fisheries, WCS and its collaborators hope that government agencies and NGOs will join them in advocating for the listing of sharks and rays under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)—the 175-member treaty that regulates international trade of animal and plant species.

Although many underwater species qualify for listing, CITES currently protects a mere handful of shark and ray species. WCS identifies the following priority species for consideration during the March 2013 CITES Conference: porbeagle shark; oceanic whitetip shark; scalloped hammerhead shark; giant manta ray and reef manta ray; and devil rays. By raising awareness during IUCN, WCS hopes to bolster support for expanded CITES’s regulations.

Speaking about the importance of protecting marine life, Dr. Cristián Samper, WCS President and CEO, says, “We are calling for governments around the world to vigorously support CITES international trade regulations and strengthen fisheries management and protection measures for shark and ray species. We cannot continue to allow the destruction of these wonders of evolution.”

And WCS isn’t just talking about marine conservation.

With strategies and programs spanning 20 countries and all five oceans, WCS strives to protect marine species and ecosystems worldwide. To learn about WCS marine conservation efforts, visit the Oceans Page.