Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 3, 2016

Contact:   Sarah Uhlemann, +1 (206) 327-2344,
Dr. Sandra Altherr, +27-64743-0088,
Raúl Arce-Contreras, +1 (240) 620-3263,      

Chambered Nautilus Receives Much-needed International Protection 

Ancient Mollusk, in Demand for Beautiful Shells, Threatened by Trade

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa— Nations around the world today voted to extend international trade protections to the chambered nautilus, an imperiled cephalopod mollusk that inhabits the Indo-Pacific Ocean. Nautiluses are suffering from high-volume trade in their unique, spiraling and geometrically perfect shells.

Chambered nautilus
Chambered nautilus photo by Greg J. Barord. Photos are available for media use.

“Nautiluses are some of the ocean’s most beautiful and unusual creatures,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, who was in South Africa advocating for protection for the species. “They deserve a future in their ocean, not on some collector’s shelf, and today’s protections may have ensured their survival on this planet.”

Over the past decade, more than 900,000 chambered nautilus products were imported into the United States alone, and Europe is believed to be another major importer. Often traded as whole shells — the most valuable commodity — nautiluses are also used in jewelry and trims, and are threatened with extinction due to excessive overfishing to satisfy the shell trade. For example, one population in the Philippines declined more than 80 percent in just 15 years.

Rebecca Regnery, deputy director for wildlife at Humane Society International, said: “The chambered nautilus is a unique and fascinating animal that is sadly being over-harvested for international trade in their shells. Today’s decision to protect these animals from unregulated international trade gives hope for this previously neglected but very vulnerable species.”

“Nautilus shells are sold all over Europe — where they end up as souvenirs, bathroom deco articles or jewelries,” said Dr. Sandra Altherr, biologist with German-based Pro Wildlife. “A regulation of this plundering is overdue.”

Today’s decision was made at the 17th meeting of the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a treaty ratified by 182 nations. By listing all species of nautilus on “Appendix II” of the treaty, trade in the nautilus may continue but will be regulated through a permit system, ensuring trade is both sustainable and fully monitored.

“This unique species, which existed before the dinosaurs and has survived every major global extinction event, is quickly being extinguished by human greed and vanity,” stated DJ Schubert, a wildlife biologist at the Animal Welfare Institute. “Today’s vote for international protection provides some hope that the nautilus species may be able to overcome yet another threat — that of humankind.” 

Nautiluses have changed little since their relatives appeared in the fossil record 500 million years ago, leading scientists to describe them as “living fossils.” The several species of nautilus are relatives of squid and octopi. Their large eyes and more than 90 sticky tentacles lend them a unique and almost alien look; their beautiful, spiral shells are commonly found on collectors’ shelves and walls worldwide.

In May the Center for Biological Diversity formally petitioned the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service to protect chambered nautilus under the country’s Endangered Species Act. The United States was a strong proponent of today’s international protections, along with its co-proponents India, Palau and Fiji. While today’s vote still requires a final vote in coming days, the decision is unlikely to change.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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