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New report finding that trade may be a threat to conservation of nautiluses, as United States submits proposal to list nautilus family in Appendix II of CITES

Chambered Nautilus

A year-long investigation, conducted by TRAFFIC/ World Wildlife Fund and funded by NOAA Fisheries, to better understand the impact of trade on chambered nautiluses was just released. The April 2016 report on the harvest and trade of chambered nautiluses in key Southeast Asian fishing locations, including Indonesia and the Philippines, and in major consumer markets in the United States and Europe, found that there is substantial harvest and trade that may threaten the conservation of chambered nautiluses.

Chambered nautiluses are native to tropical coastal reefs in American Samoa and several other countries in the Indo-Pacific Region.  Often referred to as a ‘living fossil’, chambered nautiluses are curious-looking marine invertebrates, each with a large, coiled shell that is divided into chambers. A remarkable feat of biological engineering, the animals move within their reef habitat by adjusting the ratio of liquid to gas inside the chambers thereby changing their buoyancy. Their distinctive shell is also the main attraction in trade: These animals are harvested and traded not as a food source but because of the magnificent form, color, and beautiful patterns of their shells.  However, as slow-growing species that take at least a decade to mature and reproduce, chambered nautiluses are vulnerable to even low levels of exploitation. The report found significant volumes of chambered nautilus shells and shell products are entering international trade, with a growing amount of trade occurring online. The current absence of management for these species and lack of mechanisms to track international trade in their products mask the overall volume of harvest and trade that is occurring.

NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have collaborated for several years with other range countries and researchers to assess the impact of international trade on these iconic species. The United States, joined by the nations of Fiji, India, and Palau, recently announced their submission of a proposal for consideration at the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) to list the entire family of chambered nautiluses in Appendix II of CITES. The meeting will be held in South Africa from September 24 – October 5, 2016. A global treaty, CITES protects species from becoming endangered or extinct because of international trade, and if the CITES Parties adopted the U.S. Appendix II proposal for chambered nautiluses it will ensure that the trade in nautilus shells is legal and sustainable.   

Read more about NOAA Fisheries work on chambered nautiluses.