In This Issue
The formation of the global Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking was announced at the conclusion of the prestigious Wildlife Film Festival in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on 23 September. The coalition, initiated by the United States, will focus political and public attention on growing threats to wildlife from poaching and illegal trade. Seven major U.S.-based environmental and business groups with global interests and programs have joined the Coalition: Conservation International, Save the Tiger Fund, the Smithsonian Institution, Traffic International, WildAid, Wildlife Conservation Society, and the American Forest & Paper Association.
Wildlife trafficking is a soaring black market worth $10 billion a year. Unchecked demand for exotic pets, rare foods, trophies and traditional medicines is driving tigers, elephants, rhinos, unusual birds and many other species to the brink of extinction, threatening global biodiversity. Added to this is the alarming rise in virulent zoonotic diseases, such as SARS and avian influenza, crossing species lines to infect humans and endanger public health.
In July 2005, at the initiative of the United States, G-8 leaders recognized the devastating effects of illegal logging on wildlife and committed to help countries enforce laws to combat wildlife trafficking.
The Coalition on Wildlife Trafficking will focus its initial efforts on Asia, a major supplier of black market wildlife and wildlife parts to the world. Coalition partners are already working with the Government of Thailand and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The Thai government will host a regional wildlife trafficking workshop for law enforcement officials and officials responsible for compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in October 2005. Soon after the workshop, Southeast Asian environment ministers are expected to announce the development of a regional wildlife trafficking law enforcement network.
During the announcement, Scott Miller, Associate Director for Science at the National Zoological Park (NZP) and Senior Biodiversity Advisor to the Director of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), representing Cristián Samper, Director of NMNH, mentioned the interest of the Smithsonian Institution in general, and NMNH, NZP, and the Consortium for the Barcode of Life in specific. The Smithsonian Institution may contribute to the initiative in several ways, such as through exhibits and outreach, in-country training and capacity building, and research, including the development of improved diagnostic tools for identification and monitoring of wildlife and epizootic diseases.
Additional government and non-government partners from Asia and Europe are expected to join the Coalition in the coming months.
Biological invasions are reshaping biological communities in many ways. For coastal ecosystems, one of the main sources of biological invasions is the dispersal of freshwater and marine organisms through commercial shipping. Plants and animals are transported from one area to another in ships' ballast water or on the outer surfaces of these vessels. What determines the likelihood of invasion in a bay or estuary not only depends on the characteristics of the environment, but also on the type, quantity, and quality of the organisms supplied to the new ecosystem. In invasion risk assessments, the number of these organisms is termed "propagule supply."
In research published in the June 2005 edition of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, scientists Emma Verling, Gregory Ruiz, Whitman Miller, and Kathleen Murphy of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) and colleagues find that not all shipping vessels are equal when it comes to propagule supply to coastal ecosystems. The authors analyzed data on ship arrivals to U.S. ports from overseas and looked at the frequency, amount, and the geographic source regions of ballast water discharged into U.S. waters by different ship types. They also examined the survivorship of zooplankton in water over different voyage lengths. Their research quantifies how various types of vessels differ in the frequency and amount of ballast water they discharge at a particular port. For example, a port heavily visited by container ships, which discharge relatively little ballast in U.S. waters, might not have the same invasions risk as a port visited by bulk carriers, which discharge the most ballast into U.S. waters. Furthermore, the authors found that though zooplankton survivorship declines in ballasted waters as voyage length increases, the magnitude of the decline varies between source regions and with voyage length. Additionally, the type of organisms present in ballasted water depends on the time of year and which ports the ballast was picked up from. Their research reveals the complex interactions that must be considered when estimating invasions risk and predicting when and where coastal invasions might occur.
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