Corals, sharks and other CITES species – banned vacation souvenirs


Half of the vacation is behind us. Many of us will head off on vacation much later, when the golden Polish autumn gives way to gray, and the prices of accommodations and flights drop noticeably. Regardless of when you visit the white beaches and coral reefs, it is worth remembering what NOT to bring back from your stay at the seaside.

For several years, seahorse paramedics, dead and live coral specimens, as well as souvenirs and culinary products made from shark teeth and skins have been primarily confiscated at Polish airports and road border crossings. They are the ones brought back from vacations the most, they are the ones most easily identified by customs, and at the same time their transport and trade are strictly rationed under the so-called “customs regulations. The Washington Convention, or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, CITES). Species included in the Convention are sometimes referred to as CITES species.

Let’s remember that transportation and commercial activities that violate the Washington Convention and other EU regulations on transboundary protection of flora and fauna is a crime, not just an offense of minor social harm. The guilty party is therefore subject to imprisonment for up to 5 years or a heavy fine [1].

All animals are equal, but some more equal than others

International law (CITES) protects wild populations of animals and plants by controlling, monitoring and restricting international trade in them, their recognizable parts and derivative products. It provides a foundation for international cooperation to eradicate (or at least reduce) the illegal trade in endangered specimens and raise awareness of human pressure on wild plant and animal species. Poland ratified accession to the CITES Convention on December 12, 1989, and introduced it into the national legal system on March 12, 1990. The authority taking care of compliance with the Washington Convention in Poland remains the minister responsible for the environment, and the function of the Scientific Body of the Convention in Poland is performed by the State Council for Nature Protection.

Living organisms and the souvenirs produced from them, depending on their conservation value, were divided into three categories, differentiating the amount of penalties for plundering wild populations and illegal transportation to other countries [2, 3].

Appendix I of the Convention indicates the species (sometimes entire genera and families) most threatened with extinction – trading in them is allowed sporadically and only in exceptional circumstances (in practice, only for scientists, activists and special service officers involved in saving these species). As you can easily guess, the appendix includes the greatest peculiarities of flora and fauna, such as great apes, big cats, wild sturgeon caviar, some orchids, cacti and insectivorous plants.

Annex II covers species that could rapidly disappear or even become completely extinct unless their trade is effectively rationed internationally. The annex also includes plants, animals and products made from them that are not easily distinguishable from their rarer Annex I relatives, such as: wild-growing all-ginseng (ginseng proper, medical ginseng) from the Russian Federation, five-leaf ginseng from North America. (cultivated and wild), many madrepor corals, aquarium fish, lizards and salamanders, parrots or pheasants – similar to species extinct in the wild, products of the white shark Carcharodon carcharias.

Annex III lists the animals and plants recognized by a state party to the Convention as protected within the limits of its jurisdiction (not allowed to be extracted at all or with heavily regulated exploitation), and whose protection will be more effective with the cooperation of other parties to the Convention, for example: sitatunga antelope Tragelaphus spekii, short-tailed sloth, Choloepus hoffmanni, fur and civet from African civet Civettictis civetta.

CITES isn’t the only one regulating trade in species

A number of fish and seafood are also protected internationally under the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Conservation Framework and the one voted on July 12 this year. Nature Restoration Law. This is especially true for:

  • European eels as the only catadromous fish of Europe;
  • All wild sturgeon Acipenseriformis;
  • Most cartilaginous fish (sharks, rays and chimaeras);
  • all Hippocampus seahorses ;
  • latimeria;
  • All sea turtles Chelonidae;
  • walruses, sea elephants, monk seals, kittiwakes;
  • dugongs and manatees;
  • small cetaceans;
  • Some echinoderms, especially Holothuria syringae;
  • mollusks (primarily Tridacna appendages, Strombus gigas wingfish and Nautilus boatfish);
  • corals ( Antipatharia black corals, Corallium spp noble corals, Heliopora coerulea blue corals, Scleractinia hard corals, Tubiporidae organechids) and Stilbopods(Milleporidae and Stylasteridae) for aquarium purposes.

The long road to Noah’s Ark

In the case of live animal or plant specimens, mere confiscation does not yet mean that they have been saved. Once the investigation is complete, they can be returned to the importer as evidence of the crime. Until the matter is clarified, however, they must be nurtured. This is difficult for many reasons. Most of them were caught or obtained against the law, surreptitiously, by stressing or mutilating them. Further transportation causes further damage. Confiscated specimens must be quarantined and treated. If this does not help, and the risk of transferring dangerous pests and diseases to the state of confiscation remains high, weak and sick individuals are subjected to a commission killing.

The second problem sometimes involves mistaken seizures of plants, animals and their derivatives that are fully or half-legal, but easily confused with their relatives covered by CITES appendices.

Ignorance of the law does not protect from punishment

This principle of the ancient Romans prevails today practically all over the world. Quite a few travelers seem to have slept through their biology lessons, and now assume that the regulations apply only to living, “higher” animals, as beings that feel pain.

In fact, CITES laws also regulate the transport of plants (including their organs, i.e. seeds, bulbs, etc.), “lower” animals (especially teatropods, corals and centipedes, which are becoming increasingly popular in our aquariums.In fact, CITES laws also regulate the transport of plants (including their organs, i.e. seeds, bulbs, etc.), “lower” animals (especially teatropods, corals and centipedes, which are becoming increasingly popular in our aquariums), and all kinds of products made from living organisms, including hunting and fishing trophies, clothing made from chiru (Tibetan antelope) or vicuña wool, tools, musical instruments, masks, objets d’art and devotional items made from elephant blows, shark teeth or walrus tusks, as well as “medicines” (not only the Japanese gavel “supplements” that are still readily taken in our country, but also the fat from bears, wolves and wild cats, which is experiencing a renaissance in popularity).

Those guilty of transporting or trading in live specimens are subject to imprisonment of up to five years or a fine in Poland. In some countries, the justice system is much harsher.

Golden rules of a responsible traveler

Today, climate change, habitat loss and invasions by alien species are considered the biggest threats to nature. Nevertheless, “good old” poaching and smuggling remain important causes of the disappearance of many plants and animals that are objects of desire for tourists.

The most general rule of a responsible traveler who respects wildlife, his own time and funds can be formulated: “You are not a specialist in identifying souvenirs (such as case leather or guitar wood) – don’t bring at all! Choose another safe souvenir!”. Always inform the seller that you would like to take the item abroad. Ask if you’ll have any problems doing so. Don’t settle for the laconic: “There will be no problem!”. Confidence is good, but control is better. If you have any doubts, you can inquire with the Polish Tax Administration Chamber, the customs and revenue office, or possibly the Ministry of Climate and Environment, characterizing all the circumstances of the case as precisely as possible (country, type of souvenir, species declared by the seller, other data from the seller).

Those who like legal deliberations can keep checking the CITES website and the carriers’ regulations. It is also worthwhile to go to sites of a more popular nature, created by ministries, GDOŚ and some Polish botanical or zoological gardens [4-7]. The regulations for carriage across the European Community border can be found in:

  • Council Regulation (EC) No. 338/97 of December 9, 1996. On the protection of species of wild fauna and flora by regulating trade in them;
  • Commission Regulation (EC) No. 865/2006 of May 4, 2006. laying down implementing rules for Council Regulation (EC) No. 339/97 on the protection of species of wild fauna and flora by regulating trade therein;
  • Commission Regulation (EU) 2023/9660 of May 15, 2023. Amending Council Regulation (EC) No. 338/97 to take into account the amendments adopted at the 19th. Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – Endangered Species List [13].

National regulations governing the provisions of the EU regulations are found in the Law of April 16, 2004. On nature protection (Journal of Laws No. 92,item 880, as amended).

The power of evil against one!

Someone will say “Oy, oy, oy! What’s wrong if I take a piece of reef as a souvenir!”, “I collect shells on the beach? After all, when something gets scarce, it gets more expensive, and when it gets more expensive, the demand goes down, and with it the supply.” Unfortunately, neither economics nor ecology (i.e., the economics of nature) work that way! In fact, if a commodity sourced from the wilderness becomes scarce, its exploitation usually intensifies until the resource is depleted (read: depleted).

This was the case with many species of hummingbirds and birds of paradise, which in the 19th century. decorated women’s hats; so was the plethora of orchids and pitcher plants, which were cultivated for display purposes but also collected as a capital investment, and finally with the giant alka and its eggs, which were coveted by all zoological museums of the 19th century. Currently on track for extinction include. rhinoceroses, big cats, wild sturgeons, European eels and a number of species of cacti or their succulent doubles from other families.

The souvenir trade is not the only threat. This is brilliantly illustrated by the madrepora beads inscribed in the Washington Convention. Their reefs have survived millions of years, including a series of natural disasters, climate change and plague. Today, however, they are being destroyed not only by ignorant tourists and conscious smugglers, but also by municipal and industrial wastewater, runoff from arable fields, global and local climate change (with El Niño at the forefront), and habitat loss due to hotel and aquaculture expansion. Their functioning is being disrupted by the extinction of a number of species of their fish and crab “allies” caught for food and for aquarists, and the invasion of alien shellfish species, not to mention underwater nuclear weapons tests.

If everyone takes a piece of the reef as a souvenir, and every other person buys a bit of live parsimony as a desk decoration or a bit of coral pretzels as a capital investment or an amulet against evil spirits, these beautiful caverns will share the fate of the dodo drone and the wandering pigeon. The latter until the 19th century. remained so numerous that slaughtered birds were used to graze the flock. It only took a few hundred years of hunting regulated by the invisible hand of the market for the species to disappear irretrievably from the face of the earth.

In the article, I used, among other things. z:




[4] [dostęp 23.05.2023]

[5] [dostęp 23.05.2023]

[6] [dostęp 23.05.2023]

[7] [dostęp 23.05.2023]

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