Activities of humans are now having an impact on our environment and our global ecosystem. In the long run, it is a necessary condition for human survivability. Because biodiversity is an integral aspect of life on our planet, it is our moral responsibility to maintain this natural heritage.
The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, the Indian Penal Code, and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960 are among the most stringent regulations in the world for protecting wildlife. Despite these legal provisions, trade in wildlife continues in India, particularly with lesser-known species, owing to the lack of public awareness.
Trade of sea horses and sea cucumbers is emerging as the new wildlife crime. Nicobar and Lakshwadeep Islands, Palk Bay and Gulf of Kutch have large number of sea cucumbers and sea horses. They are posing as a major threat to the already depleting marine biodiversity. India’s coastal waters are becoming base for easy poaching by international groups. What’s more disturbing is that, in the past, these criminals would sail away with the species, but now they carry them illegally on international planes.
Sea horses and sea cucumbers are first kidnapped by local individuals, mainly fisherman, who are then paid by larger organizations, according to sources in the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), the environment ministry’s intelligence arm. The species is transported by international networks involved in their trafficking via aircraft to China and Southeast Asia. The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 protects both sea horses and sea cucumbers, which are listed in Appendix I and II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), respectively. Sea cucumbers exist in shallow seas, but sea horses thrive in deep sea conditions.
A senior official of WCCB said that, “There is a larger network operating internationally to trade these threatened marine species. Some gangs are apparently funding individuals for transporting these species through air carriers. As flights between India and Thailand are very cheap, an individual is paid a certain sum to act as a courier to transport these species. It is easy for an individual to carry them as these species are very small in size and can easily be carried in a bundle in hand, without raising any suspicion. We have known about this practice for some time now and are keeping a close tab on it. If required, we will share details with Interpol too. We are already in touch with coastal states on the matter.”
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which was signed on January 1, 1973, is the primary international legal framework for the conservation and preservation of animal diversity. This convention safeguards endangered animals from illegal trade and trafficking. The main identified danger for the sustainability of biodiversity is illegal human activities including international wildlife trafficking and illegal activities at the sea. The consumer demand of exotic animals gives opportunities to traffickers. They all use illegal importation ways, for example, maritime transport, to respond to such demands. This trafficking exists because legal protection for species is not the same in all the countries of the world.
In East Asia, population growth has led to rising demand for exotic and luxury products, as well as for greater production of protein. The supply chain for seafood involves a complex web of middlemen that facilitate the entry of illegally caught and sourced seafood into the market. Monitoring fishing activity at the source, creating more efficient tracking and enforcement mechanisms to prevent illegal fishing, raising barriers to entry for illegal fish products into global markets, and influencing consumer demand through marketing and behavior change are all challenges for illegal fishing.
Marine wildlife trafficking is driving many species into extinction. Trafficking weakens the law, fosters corruption, stifles economic progress, and jeopardizes the country’s national security. The trade of these species has become lucrative with prices of certain species exceeding the value of platinum, gold and diamonds in the market.
The emergence of middle class in Asia and in the developing world has placed new demands on fisheries.
- Rising wages have increased pressure for cheap and high quantities of seafood.
- Growing wealth and a desire to show status is also a driving demand for luxury seafood such as shark fin, sea cucumber, sea urchins and sea horses, particularly in South East and East Asia.
These pressures increase the incentive for illegal fishing and trafficking. The developed countries also contribute to marine wildlife trafficking and illegal fishing through the pet and food trade.
Trafficking of prohibited goods is not a new and recent phenomenon. It concerns all the countries. This lack of supervision facilitates the growth of a highly profitable market. In this regard, it appears that a true worldwide legal framework on wildlife trafficking is required in order to effectively combat it using the same legal basis and penalties.
In India like in many other developing countries, the problem is not the laws but that these laws are poorly implemented and enforced. Most of the time, positive efforts to address wildlife trade concerns are undermined by lack of political will and governance failures. Without political backing, disincentives for over-exploitation and illegal trade, like penalties for legal infringements, are all weak and do not bring about any change.
Still, much more needs to be done to protect and preserve India’s wildlife given the pervasiveness and the seriousness of the threat. Climate change, pollution, and loss of forested areas are already wreaking havoc on the ecosystem. Wildlife trafficking will not only end up killing animals, but also ruin biodiversity, leading to an unbalanced food chain and ultimately threatening all forms of life.
- Aakash Vashishtha, Illegal trade of marine species on a sharp rise, India Today https://www.indiatoday.in/india/north/story/illegal-trade-marine-species-sea-horses-cucumber-biodiversity-190595-2014-04-27
- Gaetan Balan,Wildlife Protection and Illegal Activities at Sea, Human Sea (June 8, 2016), https://humansea.hypotheses.org/267#footnote_0_267
- Barbara Martinez, Ending Marine Wildlife Trafficking, Conservation Labs, https://conservationx.com/challenge/oxl/trafficking
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