Starfish, Tritons and CITES


Taken at Green Island in the early 1980s, this photo of Dr Robert Endean (right) and Dr Peter James (left) testifies to the seriousness of the COTS problem when renewed outbreaks were first noticed following a decade of coral recovery. I have had the pleasure of visiting reefs off Innisfail and Cairns with these scientists who were both fearless in exposing what they believed to be attempts by those in authority to suppress or subvert information or to impose their own views on others. Now it is clearly acknowledged that COTS outbreaks are responsible for half the decline in coral on the GBR.


The giant triton (Charonia tritonis) is a beautiful shell and a well known predator of the crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci). In many parts of the third world, it is still being collected in large numbers and sold to tourists as ornaments. As you admire the beautiful shell, spare a thought for the hungry mollusk that died. And don’t forget, they live on starfish. Many species of starfish are known to outbreak in different parts of the world. Prior to human collection, the giant triton might have controlled starfish numbers not by eating the many, but by preventing the aggregation that precedes the outbreak. At present, little is known of any aspect of the triton’s ecology despite it’s obvious importance in controlling starfish numbers.


On the subject of CITES listing of Charonia tritonis, I note the recent article of illegal Indonesian trade and quote the following:

“Large volumes of legally protected marine molluscs from Indonesia are imported into the USA [37]. There is no a priori reason to assume that similar imports are absent from for instance the EU, Japan or China. We feel that at least part of the responsibility of adherence to wildlife protection laws lie with the importing countries. We firstly urge the EU and other major wildlife importers to invest in a monitoring system similar to LEMIS in the USA allowing one to assess these imports and secondly for these importers to check the legality of their shipments [38]. Conversely, we urge the Indonesian authorities to be more active with informing importing countries about trade restrictions (including bans and quotas).

While the data from Java and neighbouring islands comprise just one dataset, in recent years it has become clear that at least a number of the larger marine molluscs currently not included on the appendices of CITES are traded internationally in large volumes. These include chambered nautilus [37] [44] [45], Triton’s trumpet [39] and horned helmet [35] (this study). A detailed assessment of the international trade in nautilids is underway in anticipation of future CITES proposals [40] and similar assessment of other large molluscs may be warranted. While inclusion onto the appendices of CITES in itself does not guarantee improved management or better enforcement of existing national laws, it does draw attention to the issue of over-exploitation of these animals, and ensures that quantitative data are available on trade patterns and trends, possibly leading to improved protection.”


The Giant Triton needs our protection so it can continue it’s vital role as a starfish predator on Coral Reefs worldwide.


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