Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 27, 2018

Contact:  Sarah Uhlemann, (206) 327-2344, 

Chambered Nautilus Given Endangered Species Act Protection

Ancient Shellfish, Survivor of Five Mass Extinctions, Threatened by Shell Trade

WASHINGTON— The National Marine Fisheries Service gave Endangered Species Act protection today to the chambered nautilus, which is threatened with extinction due to overharvesting for the international shell trade. But the agency decided not to adopt curbs on the booming commercial imports of chambered nautilus shells.

In response to a scientific petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Fisheries Service finalized a threatened listing for the nautilus, whose unique, spiraling shell has made it a popular commodity for collectors in the United States and Europe. Over the past 16 years, nearly 1.7 million nautilus shell products were imported into the United States.

“Treating nautiluses like tourist trinkets is driving them to the brink of extinction. This decision will help get these beautiful shellfish the protection they desperately need,” said Miyoko Sakashita, ocean program director with the Center. “It’s humbling to share a planet with these ancient creatures, and it’s our challenge to ensure they don’t go extinct on our watch. This listing is a good start.”

Today’s Endangered Species Act protection will benefit nautilus conservation by sending a strong international signal that urgent actions are needed to prevent the animals’ extinction. However, the Fisheries Service chose not to close or limit the U.S. nautilus import market.   

“Endangered Species Act protection will help, but it’s disappointing that the Trump administration delayed badly needed protective regulations that would prohibit imports of chambered nautilus shells,” Sakashita said. “If we don’t get rules to rein in this booming commercial trade, it’ll continue to be a major threat to survival of these shellfish.”

The Center has also urged U.S. officials to encourage the Philippines, Indonesia and other Indo-Pacific countries to enforce their environmental laws and stop the unsustainable harvest of chambered nautiluses.

A relative of the squid and octopus, the chambered nautilus grows to about 8 inches long, with a spiral shell and about 90 tentacles it uses to catch prey. It’s often called a “living fossil” because of its striking resemblance to ancestors that swam shallow seas half a billion years ago.

Although nautiluses have survived five major mass extinctions, today they’re threatened with extinction due to excessive overfishing and trade. For example, one population in the Philippines declined more than 80 percent in just 15 years. The future of the nautilus is also threatened by ocean acidification, which can impair the ability of mollusks to build the shells they need to survive.

In 2016 the United States joined with Fiji, India and Palau to successfully propose listing the entire nautilus family under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). These CITES protections limit but do not prohibit international trade.

“The chambered nautilus is being collected and sold into extinction for jewelry, home décor, and other trinkets,” Sakashita said. “It’s a tragedy. The Endangered Species Act has a tremendous track record of preventing extinctions, and it can now play a lifesaving role for these incredible animals.”

Chambered nautilus

Photo by Greg J. Barord. Images are available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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