Earlier this week, the New York Times published an article titled “Loving the Chambered Nautilus to Death.” How could this be possible? Have we really turned the tides of fate for the chambered nautilus simply by loving it too much?
Wait, what’s that you say? What is a chambered nautilus? Oh, you know. It’s a cephalopod with six generally recognized species contained within two genera. Still not ringing a bell?
Perhaps, a photo would help:
In a word, the nautilus is beautiful. The nautilus’s meticulously designed shell with its spiral shape, intricate chambers, and exquisite coloring make it highly sought after for the curio and tourist markets. The species is internationally traded as shell products, jewelry, unworked shell, trim, and even live animals.
More than 579,000 items containing nautilus were imported into the United States between 2005 and 2008, mainly from the Philippines, Indonesia and China. Approximately 99 percent of those items were reported to contain nautilus harvested from the wild.
So, now you know that the nautilus is beautiful and often marketed as a souvenir or other trinket. But, did you also know that these slow-growing, long-lived animals can take up to 15 years before they are able to reproduce? The nautilus is a cephalopod, a classification of animals that includes octopus and squid; though nautiluses are the only cephalopods that have an external shell. This strong outer shell allows them to travel to depths of nearly 2,000 feet.
A quick review of the nautilus’ life history traits coupled with the knowledge of its role in international trade, raises the obvious question-- “Is this trade sustainable?” In 2008, we received a suggestion from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Humane Society International (HSI) that we consider proposing regulation of the global trade in chambered nautilus through a CITES Appendix-II listing.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is a global treaty designed to prevent species from becoming endangered or extinct as a result of international trade. The text of the Convention was finalized in Washington, D.C., and the treaty entered into force in 1975. Today, with 175 member countries (called Parties), there are few countries that do not belong to this multinational treaty. In the United States, CITES implementation is delegated to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s International Affairs Program.
More than 34,000 species impacted by international trade are protected under CITES, including over 5,000 species of animals and nearly 29,000 species of plants. For CITES-listed species, international trade is regulated through CITES documentation that meets certain permit or certificate requirements.
At the time of the suggestion from HSUS and HSI, we did a thorough review of international trade data, existing laws, and biological science. Simply put, there wasn’t enough data. To meet the requirements of CITES, enough information must be available to fully assess the status of the species and the impact of international trade on it.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t concerned about the nautilus. The life history traits of the nautilus do make it vulnerable to overharvest. We’re funding research that will help us learn more about the status of the global nautilus population. We continue to track new research and gather information so that we can make sure that the nautilus isn’t “loved to death.”