Mark SimmondsDirector of Science

We agreed two important documents at the CoP that direct marine pollution work going forward.


Conference of the Parties (CoP14) of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS): a personal view

February 17, 2024

Mark Simmonds, OceanCare’s Director of Science, gives a personal report on the big conservation meeting that just closed in Uzbekistan and where the situation and, potentially, the fate of many of the world’s migratory species was debated and concluded, including many new conservation actions.

I have been fortunate enough to attend quite a few of the big meetings of the international conventions that work on animal issues over the years. These are remarkable gatherings where the representatives of nations and interested observers  come together somewhere in the world, usually in giant convention centres, to debate and agree matters that affect the fate of the world’s wildlife. One such meeting has just concluded in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, and this was the 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP 14) of the Convention on the Conservation of Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS). A team from OceanCare was present.

In the region of one thousand four hundred people from all around the world gathered and on the agenda were proposals to add fourteen species and populations to the two appendices of the Convention: appendix 1 being for those that are most endangered. Listing on appendix 1 means that the nations that are parties to the Convention need to give them the highest protection and species on appendix 2 are meant to have regional agreements developed for them.

Additionally, there were numerous technical documents (more than 100) to be discussed that elaborate conservation plans and actions as well as how the Convention works. I will focus on the marine ones here but, just to illustrate the full ranges of issues, matters affecting species including jaguars, the Eurasian lynx, saker falcons, elephants and chimpanzees were also discussed.

For me, personally, one proposal stands out and this is that after many years of encouragement to do this, the critically endangered harbour porpoise of the Baltic Proper was finally added to appendix 1. The proposal was brought forward by the EU states. This distinct population is thought to only number a few hundred individuals and we now have to ensure that its new appendix 1 status leads to new concrete actions.

Also added to the CMS appendices were Lahille’s bottlenose dolphin, the Peruvian pelican, the sand tiger shark, the blackchin guitarfish, the bull ray and the Lusitanian cownose ray. The Convention will also take forward new conservation plans for the Atlantic humpback dolphin, the hawksbill turtle, two shark species and the European eel. It will also bring in some new work on sirenians (manatees and dugongs), pinnipeds (seals and sealions) and otters.

Another matter that really impressed me was the decision to continue work on the conservation of animal cultures. Traditionally conservation is focused on population units that are defined genetically and perhaps geographically. However, now we also know that some species are divided according to cultural units and this includes species such as sperm whales and chimpanzees. CMS is leading the world in this issue.

Running in the background during the whole six days of the CoP was an issue that is immensely important but also turned out to be highly contentious. This was the issue of deep-sea mining and working out the role of CMS in addressing this relative to other bodies. Parties were very divided on this – as they are on the issue of whether deep-sea mining should be allowed to go ahead at all – and a separate working group on this met multiple times in the background to the main meeting. Parties and observers strongly debated some issues of key wording for many long hours. Occasionally, the working group would report into the main hall on its progress… but it went on meeting right up to the last morning of the CoP when a text was finally agreed. The essence of this is that the Convention parties agreed not to engage in deep-sea mining activities until sufficient and robust scientific information has been obtained to ensure that no harmful effects to migratory species, their prey and their ecosystems are caused.

What is it like to be at one of these meetings? It is a weird mixture of inspiring – you feel that when countries commit to something, such as a new well thought through conservation action, that there is new hope – but it can also be dismaying, because we are considering the hard and horrible reasons behind why the actions need to be taken: that animals and ecosystems caught up in the triple monster threat caused by climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss. It is also an intense activity spread over many long hours in the great hall and other meeting rooms with too little sleep for all those attending the meeting.

More positively, the setting in Samarkand was splendid. The giant main hall and associated rooms and halls are lavishly decorated and filled with inspiring artifacts and images – this all helps keep spirits high. It is also an opportunity to meet up with many old friends who are also united in the efforts to save the world’s wildlife. There is a hard working family  of such people drawn from all across the world, some are focused on particular species (for examples the dolphin or bat specialists) other are issue experts (for example those working on light pollution), many are lawyers and behind all these people is a legion of others, supporting them and many watching the CoP that was streaming live and others that will catch up on You Tube. Indeed, making an intervention in the Great Hall is not something that can be lightly done – many are watching or will watch.  You might also catch sight of yourself on one of the eight giant screens around the hall as you are speaking, which can be somewhat off-putting.

I attended the meeting in my capacity as the scientist appointed to address marine pollution (i.e. ‘The CoP-appointed Councillor for Marine Pollution’) and I would like to thank OceanCare, the secretariat and everyone that supports me in this role. We agreed two important documents at the CoP that direct marine pollution work going forward.

More generally the future of many species and their habitats was decided over the last few days and it was a privilege to be part of this process.

Daily reports from the CoP and many images can be seen here on the website of the Earth Negotiations Bulletin.