Life below water for people and planet

  • United Nations SG
    António Guterres Secretary-General United Nations
  • Ivonne Higuero
    Ivonne Higuero Secretary-General CITES Secretariat
Tweets by World Wildlife Day

Marine species provide indispensable ecosystem services.  Plankton enrich the atmosphere with oxygen and more than 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for sustenance and livelihoods.  Marine and coastal resources and the industries they support are estimated to be worth at least US$3 trillion a year, some 5 per cent of global GDP.

Sustainably managing and protecting marine and coastal ecosystems are the objectives of Goal 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals.  Today, ocean life is under severe pressure, ranging from climate change to pollution, the loss of coastal habitats and the overexploitation of marine species.  Some one-third of commercial fish stocks are overfished, and many other species – from albatrosses to turtles – are imperilled by the unsustainable use of ocean resources.

The good news is that solutions are available.  For example, where fisheries are managed scientifically, most fish stocks have a good chance of recovery.  The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) is increasing regulation of marine species.  And the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is engaged in crafting a post-2020 global biodiversity framework.

On this World Wildlife Day, let us raise awareness about the extraordinary diversity of marine life and the crucial importance of marine species to sustainable development.  That way, we can continue to provide these services for future generations.

When we think about wildlife most of us picture elephants, rhinos and tigers – all important land-based species that are regularly on the agenda of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES). But we should not forget about life below water and the important contribution they make to sustainable development, as enshrined in Goal 14 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Marine wildlife has sustained human civilization and development for millennia, from providing food and nourishment, to enriching our lives culturally, spiritually, and recreationally. Every year fisheries generate $362 billion to the global economy. Marine ecotourism offers individuals an educational and adventurous experience and also provides livelihoods for coastal communities.

Alarmingly, despite its critical importance, life below water faces many threats, amongst them an area of primary concern for CITES, which is their unsustainable exploitation for international trade. CITES provides a safety net for our threatened marine life and it has a long history of regulating international trade in marine species to ensure that this trade does not threaten their survival. This role has significantly expanded over recent years, with CITES Parties agreeing to list an increasing number of commercially exploited marine species under the Convention.

The majority of these marine species are listed on CITES Appendix II, meaning that they can continue to be traded as long as the trade is sustainable and legal. Further, for CITES purposes, “introduction from the sea”, namely the transport of specimens from the high seas into a country Party, also counts as trade, making it one of the few existing instruments regulating activities on the high seas. CITES, therefore, contributes also to SDG 17 on strengthening the means of implementation and revitalizing the global partnership for sustainable development, to ensure that international trade in wildlife is sustainable, focusing on species that have declined to a level that require strong management measures to maintain or rebuild stocks.

This serves as an example of the positive role international trade can have to support the implementation of science-based management plans and rebuild fish stocks to sustainable levels, complementing the work of other organizations to improve fisheries management at a global scale.

Well-managed and sustainable international trade greatly contributes to livelihoods and the conservation of marine species. The sustainable harvesting and trade in corals in Indonesia, which boasts the highest coral diversity in the world, has not only improved the livelihoods of coastal communities but also prevented over-exploitation due to CITES trade controls.

We are all striving to achieve the same objective of sustainability: for people and planet – where wildlife, be it terrestrial or marine, can thrive in the wild while also benefiting people. We, here at CITES, will continue to work tirelessly to ensure international trade in CITES-listed marine species is sustainable and support our Parties in implementing science-based management.


On 20 December 2013, at its 68th session, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) proclaimed 3 March, the day of signature of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), as UN World Wildlife Day to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants. The UNGA resolution also designated the CITES Secretariat as the facilitator for the global observance of this special day for wildlife on the UN calendar. World Wildlife Day has now become the most important global annual event dedicated to wildlife.

World Wildlife Day will be celebrated in 2019 under the theme “Life below water: for people and planet", which aligns with goal 14 of UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The ocean contains nearly 200,000 identified species, but actual numbers may be in the millions. Globally, the market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is estimated at US$3 trillion per year, about 5% of global GDP. Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods. Marine wildlife has sustained human civilization and development for millennia, from providing food and nourishment, to material for handicraft and construction. It has also enriched our lives culturally, spiritually, and recreationally in different ways.

The capacity of life below water to provide these services is severely impacted, as our planet’s oceans and the species that live within it are under assault from an onslaught of threats. As much as 40% of the ocean is now heavily affected by the most significant and direct threat of over exploitation of marine species as well as other threats such as pollution, loss of coastal habitats and climate change. These threats have a strong impact on the lives and livelihoods of those who depend on marine ecosystem services, particularly women and men in coastal communities.

This is the first World Wildlife Day to focus on life below water. It is a great opportunity to raise awareness about the breathtaking diversity of marine life, the crucial importance of marine species to human development, and how we can make sure it will continue to provide these services for future generations.




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