I recently had the honour of speaking at the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon in my capacity as the Executive Director of the Wildlife Justice Commission – specifically on Sustainable Development Goal 14.
Our ocean ecosystems are under threat
The trafficking of vulnerable marine species is transnational and complex, often converging with a wide range of other crimes, from fraud and corruption to human trafficking. Marine species are particularly vulnerable to organised crime. It is a multi-billion-dollar illegal business, amounting to USD 10 – 23.5 billion per year. Transnational organised criminal networks are preying on endangered species, hampering efforts to establish sustainable fisheries, and seriously impacting ocean health and global resources.
These crimes exacerbate climate change, cause biodiversity loss, and deprive coastal fishing communities of livelihoods and food sources.
Removing species from their environment upsets the delicate balance of ocean ecosystems. From apex predators to sea cucumbers to kelp, all marine life plays a role in maintaining healthy oceans.
Vulnerable species focus
The challenges facing our marine species are huge, with many threats demanding urgent action. At the moment, the Wildlife Justice Commission is focusing on specific species where we have the potential to make the greatest impact.
Sharks are apex predators, playing a vital role in regulating the ocean ecosystem. These “doctors of the sea” maintain ocean health by preying on sick or injured animals, keeping the spread of disease at bay. Even kelp forests – vital carbon sinks – rely on sharks to keep grazers like sea turtles and dugongs in check.
However, sharks are hunted relentlessly for their meat and fins, and are under ever-increasing pressure. It is estimated that 100 million sharks are killed by humans every year, often for the shark fin trade. Of the 11 species preferred for shark fin soup, eight are either endangered or critically endangered.
Sea cucumbers are small but mighty players in the marine ecosystem. They are vital for healthy coral reefs, and they help to slow ocean acidification, an effect of climate change.
There are currently 16 species of sea cucumber that are threatened with extinction, impacting ocean health and the livelihoods of coastal communities. They are in high demand in China and South Asian countries as a delicacy and aphrodisiac, and in the West for their pharmaceutical potential. Such a valuable commodity inevitably attracts criminal networks, who often launder illegally harvested sea cucumbers through the legal market.
How we fight the trafficking of marine species
The Wildlife Justice Commission works to disrupt and help dismantle criminal networks, encourage the growth of political will to combat these problems, and build tomorrow’s sustainable solutions. To protect vulnerable species from exploitation, we:
- conduct intelligence-led investigations
- bridge the intelligence gap with intelligence analysis
- share intelligence and investigative findings with governments and stakeholders
- build sustainable solutions through training and mentoring
- urge governments to act
Help us close the net on criminal networks plundering the ocean
Donations made to the Wildlife Justice Commission are tax-deductible under Dutch law, as we have ANBI status. EU citizens can also make their contributions tax-deductible. See our Donate section for more details on how you can help us to fight transnational organised wildlife crime. Donating from the USA? Click here.
Giant clam shells, ivory, and organised crime: Analysis of a potential new nexus
Giant clam shell seizures in the Philippines have risen sharply in both frequency and volume over the past three years. The scale of these seizures points towards the involvement of organised crime. Our latest report takes a closer look at the evolving dynamics of the giant clam shell trade.