WWF welcomed the entry into force of the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA) on 5 June 2016 – an international accord that will prevent illegally caught fish from entering the markets through ports around the world. The PSMA is an important step in the global fight to eliminate illegal fishing – which endangers marine ecosystems, undermines law-abiding fishermen, and penalizes governments, retailers and consumers who play by the rules. The agreement is a cost-effective way of leveraging market forces to close ports to vessels suspected of illegal activities. WWF has been working for several years to convince national governments to sign and ratify this important treaty. The more countries that join the agreement and effectively implement it, the better the chances of keeping illegal products out of global markets.
A highly innovative idea – to buy up and “retire” a shark fishing licence on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR) – rapidly attracted the support it needed, raising AUD100,000 in just 48 hours and delivering an immediate, positive conservation result to the region. The licence includes the rights to fish using one of five 1.2-kilometre-long nets, which are hugely destructive to marine life on the reef, including causing the deaths of an estimated 10,000 sharks annually as well as associated bycatch of dugongs, dolphins and turtles. Following this success and overwhelming support from the community, WWF is now seeking to raise funds to buy and retire a second licence.
The establishment of the 1-million hectare Tun Mustapha Park (TMP) in the Coral Triangle off the north coast of Borneo, formally declared on 9 May 2016, marks a milestone in global marine conservation. The inauguration of TMP comes after more than a decade of work led by the Sabah State Government and Sabah Parks, international partners and civil society with support from WWF. Incorporating the coastline and more than 50 islands, the park will help protect rich coral reef, mangrove and seagrass habitats, as well as productive fishing grounds. An economic valuation, commissioned by WWF, showed that conservation and sustainable development of the area would provide value of US$83 million, more than triple the value of proposed extractive industry developments. Furthermore, a WWF public opinion survey showed 85 per cent of people to be in favour of the park, which will support the livelihoods of 80,000 people in local communities dependent on the biodiversity and ecosystem services of the coastal and marine area.
Estimates of Iberian lynx populations last year showed a dramatic increase in numbers, rising from 327 individuals in 2014 to 404 in 2015. This provides real hope for the long-term survival of what is still the most endangered cat species in the world. A new survey also shows that the lynx is expanding beyond the borders of its stronghold in Andalusia into other parts of Spain and into Portugal; the first birth of an Iberian lynx in the wild outside Andalusia was confirmed in Extremadura in 2015. Despite sustained conservation efforts, however, the Iberian lynx is still threatened by road deaths and diminishing populations of rabbits, its main prey. In some critical lynx habitats, rabbit numbers have been halved by disease outbreaks. Without urgent efforts to tackle the threat posed by road traffic and to correct the falling rabbit population, this conservation success could go into reverse.
An innovative management agreement signals a positive new start for effective conservation of the 3.3-million-hectare Salonga National Park in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This is Africa’s largest forest national park and the world’s second largest tropical forest protected area. Launched in May, the joint management of the park by the DRC’s Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and WWF is strongly supported by donors, especially the European Union, USAID and the German development organization KfW. Improved management will help address the poaching, illegal fishing and bushmeat hunting that have plagued the area. The park, which consists of two huge forest blocks separated by a 45-kilometre-wide corridor, is home to a wealth of wildlife, including 51 mammal, 129 fish and 223 bird species. Key species include the forest elephant, Congo peacock, giant pangolin and bonobo or pygmy chimpanzee – the park is estimated to be home to 40 per cent of the world’s total population of bonobos, which are endemic to the DRC.
The global climate agreement achieved in Paris in December 2015 marked a critical step in global efforts to tackle climate change. On 22 April 2016, at a UN event in New York, a record 175 countries signed the agreement. Ten countries have already ratified it, many others announced that they would do so as soon as possible, and several more have since done so. The Paris Agreement commits countries to try to keep warming under 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels – well below the 2ºC considered to draw the line between safety and crisis. To meet the challenge, all countries urgently need to increase their national efforts to cut emissions, promote renewable energy, protect forests, and finance the move to a low-carbon economy.
In 2012, WWF challenged Finland’s most important fish traders to make concrete commitments to promote sustainability. The main goal of the campaign was that by the end of 2015, no fish listed as unsustainable in WWF’s Finland Seafood Guide would be sold in Finland. This goal is very close to being achieved, with a recent survey showing less than 2 per cent of fish sold to be unsustainable, while close to two-thirds were listed as sustainable and just a third as intermediate. Data from Finnish customs show huge decreases in imports of fish on the unsustainable list – such as rays and bluefin tuna. The campaign also helped gain improved protection for threatened fisheries, with salmon stocks in the Baltic Sea and sea trout in the Gulf of Finland showing signs of recovery. The survey found a third of Finns to be following the recommendations of the Seafood Guide, and the campaign’s success demonstrates the value of companies, fishing authorities, non-governmental organizations and citizens acting as one to help solve the overfishing crisis.
In a major boost for conservation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the government has finally approved the boundaries of the 1.5-million-hectare Itombwe Nature Reserve. This decision paves the way for effective protection of one of DRC’s most biodiverse areas, and providing hope for the wildlife and human communities that depend on it. Initially gazetted in 2006, the reserve supports an astonishing array of species such as forest elephant, chimpanzee and Grauer’s gorilla, also known as the eastern lowland gorilla, which is under huge threat. Recent reports show a catastrophic population collapse, with a 77 per cent decrease in total numbers from an estimated 17,000 in 1995 to just 3,800 today. While numbers have also dropped in Itombwe, WWF believes the formal establishment of the reserve – a WWF priority for more than a decade – will help secure this local population.
At the WWF Annual Conference in Livingstone, Zambia in June, Zambian climate leader and youth empowerment advocate Brighton Kaoma received the 2016 WWF International President’s Award – WWF’s top accolade for outstanding young conservation leaders – for his efforts to educate young people on the environment and give them a voice. Growing up in the heavily polluted mining community of Kitwe, Kaoma ran a weekly community radio programme as a teenager to raise awareness of pollution and climate change, and became a UNICEF Child Ambassador on climate change in 2010. “We need inclusive and sustainable growth that prioritizes the most vulnerable and makes the protection of our planet a real priority,” he said. “By empowering young people to speak about what matters to them, we will see a generation of change and ethical young leaders”. Twenty-two-year-old Kaoma is also Co-founder and Executive Director of the Agents of Change Foundation, a youth-led non-profit Zambian radio and leadership organization which has trained more than 200 young reporters to produce radio shows for their communities and develop conservation leadership skills.
At the end of May, historic measures were taken for tuna: the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), responsible for managing nearly a quarter of the global catch, adopted much needed harvest control rules for skipjack tuna in the Indian Ocean. This is the first time any tuna fisheries commission has adopted harvest control rules before the stock has actually collapsed. This decision is a credit to the foresight of IOTC members and a major step towards preserving Indian Ocean stocks. It has taken several years of coordinated work by WWF to get to this point. Even more significantly, responding in part to a strong WWF campaign, initial measures were adopted by the commission to reduce fishing effort on yellowfin tuna, a stock projected to collapse if catches continue at recent high levels.
Forest concessions in Indonesian New Guinea are to be managed according to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) principles. Two areas totalling 210,000 hectares have been certified, and a further 500,000 hectares are expected to gain certification later this year. The island contains the largest tract of tropical forest outside the Amazon Forest and Congo Basin, and around two-thirds of its species are found nowhere else on Earth. However, it has been identified by WWF as one of 11 “deforestation fronts” at risk of large-scale forest loss over the next 15 years. FSC certification provides independent assurance of responsible forest management, with fair social conditions for workers and local communities, and protection of areas of high conservation value. Members of WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) worked together to achieve this first FSC certification and help initiate responsible forest management.
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has agreed to keep the Belize barrier reef and Selous Game Reserve on the List of World Heritage in Danger, adding support to WWF’s campaign to protect priority sites threatened by harmful industrial activities. A WWF report found that half of World Heritage Sites are at risk from damaging development. Oil concessions and pollution threaten the corals and mangroves of the Belize barrier reef, a source of food and livelihoods for 190,000 people. The committee commended Belize’s promise to ban oil exploration within the site, while WWF called for the ban to extend to all offshore waters. In Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve, where elephant populations have declined from 110,000 to only 15,000 individuals, the committee welcomed progress on halting poaching, but expressed concern at proposed mines and dams in the area.
A highly coordinated campaign has rapidly defeated a potentially hugely damaging new law in Greece that would have permitted previously illegal forest clearance for housing. Within 48 hours of its launch, WWF’s campaign achieved a change in the law. A combination of advance warning from whistle-blowers within the Greek parliament, effective teamwork, volunteer legal experts and huge public outreach on social media reaching 400,000 people on Facebook – as well as detailed information to all MPs and meetings with political leaders – helped stoke public outrage and a government back-down. This is the third time in three years that WWF has achieved a major political win in Greece.
The estimated number of tigers remaining in the wild has been revised from a 2010 low of 3,200 to close to 3,890. The updated figure results from healthy increases in tiger populations in Bhutan, India, Nepal and Russia, improved surveying and enhanced protection. In 2014, tiger range governments agreed to announce a new global tiger estimate by 2016, based on systematic national surveys. The new estimate is based on these assessments alongside IUCN data for those countries that did not manage to complete their surveys. The announcement came on the eve of the 3rd Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation in India, another key part of efforts to double wild tiger numbers by 2022.