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International Waters: CITES Launches New Species+ Website

Posted: March 24, 2014, 12:15 p.m. EDT


By John Dawes

Species+ (www.speciesplus.net) is a new website launched by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). According to CITES and its project partners, the United Nations Environment Programme—World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), Species+ is "a new online resource providing information on globally protected species.” It includes not just CITES-listed species, but also all those covered by UNEP-WCMC, CMS and the European Union (EU) Wildlife Trade Regulations.

The new website aims to provide a one-stop facility that allows stakeholders—including the international ornamental aquatic industry—to "rapidly” identify the species covered by the above conventions and regulations, and permit the downloading of up-to-date information about CITES trade suspensions and quotas.

Before the website’s launch, those wishing to research a particular species or discover which species are listed by these databases had to visit each respective website. One of the huge advantages of Species+ is its inclusion of all of the species concerned "under one roof.”

The homepage allows users to choose either the CITES or CMS list and offers search, "Locations” and "Download Species Lists” options.

Rasbora kalochroma
The clown or two-spot rasbora (Rasbora kalochroma) is one of a number of  nonlisted species that are included in Species+. John Dawes

Many aspects of Species+ are excellent. For example, users who want to see all of the species included in the database click on "Search” and are transported to an alphabetical list of no fewer than 23,355 species. For a specific species, they enter it into the search field.

Take the dragon fish. On entering Scleropages formosus in the search field, the name of the genus, plus the names of the five species, automatically appear in a small window below the main search window. By clicking on that result, users are taken to the species page. Here its "Legal Status” is at a glance, i.e., it is listed in CITES Appendix I and (scrolling down or using the "EU Listing” menu option) in Annex A.

Users are offered the CMS option at the top of the page. Clicking on this indicates the search yields no results, which (presumably) means it is not listed in the CMS database.

By clicking "Names,” users are provided with not just the common names for S. formosus in several languages, but also the synonyms for the species. The four "species” names that have been doing the rounds in recent years (S. aureus, S. inscriptus and the latest species described in 2012, S. legendrei and S. macrocephalus), are all listed as synonyms of S. formosus. Users also can select "Distribution” and "Reference.”

On the "Legal Status” page are options for "CITES Listing,” "CITES Quotas” (none currently in force), "CITES Suspensions” (none currently in force), the aforementioned "EU Listing” and "EU Decisions.”

Regarding S. inscriptus being listed under "Synonyms” for S. formosus, the "EU Decisions” option provides a link to Commission Regulation (EU) No. 750/2013 of July 29, 2013, which now contains a comment stating that the S. formosus entry "includes the newly described taxon Scleropages inscriptus.”

Despite this hiccup, Species+ does a great job regarding S. formosus. The same goes for any number of listed species. If users wish to discover which species of ray-finned species (Actinopterygii) or cartilaginous fishes, such as sharks and rays (Elasmobranchii), are included in the database, they simply enter the corresponding scientific keyword in the search window on the homepage, click and are taken to the relevant section.

It is here that the site begins to lose its way. No one can argue that many of the 560 species entered in the ray-finned fishes list are perfectly valid entries. But why should species that do not feature in the CITES or CMS appendices, or in the European Trade Regulations, be featured as well? What determines which of these species are selected for inclusion in Species+? Click on any of the included nonappendix/annex-listed species to reveal such statements as, "This species is not currently listed in the CITES Appendices”—or in the EU annexes. No explanations are provided, and answers are left in the air.

Another weak point becomes apparent when using the "Download Species Lists” option on the homepage, or anywhere else within the site. Users must choose among CITES, EU or CMS; select the desired "Listing” or whether the search is for "Quotas/Suspensions”; and choose the desired "Appendix” or "Annex,” "Taxon” and "Location” from six selected regions or a long list of countries. 

The "Regions” field offers no "All” option, which means users must know the natural or introduced range for the species in question in advance. Finally, after users have made their choices, the results are presented in the form of a less-than-user-friendly Excel sheet.

Despite these quibbles, Species+ will provide a very valuable tool, not just for governments, conservation and other agencies, but also for the ornamental aquatic sector—especially once the niggling bits are sorted out and improved.  

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