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Yeosu, South Korea (AFP) Aug 12, 2012
The UN chief Sunday announced an initiative to protect oceans from pollution and over-fishing and to combat rising sea levels which threaten hundreds of millions of people.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the initiative, called the Oceans Compact, sets out a strategic vision for the UN system to work more effectively to tackle the "precarious state" of the world's seas.
Ban highlighted the "grave threat" from pollution, excessive fishing and global warming.
"Our oceans are heating and expanding," he said in a speech to a conference marking the 30th anniversary of the opening for signature of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
"We risk irrevocable changes in processes that we barely comprehend, such as the great currents that affect weather patterns.
"Ocean acidification (from absorbed carbon emissions) is eating into the very basis of our ocean life; and sea level rise threatens to re-draw the global map at the expense of hundreds of millions of the world's most vulnerable people."
The UN chief, who also called for action to curb piracy and irregular sea migration, said he hoped for progress towards a legally binding framework to combat "runaway climate change" at a UN conference in Doha in November.
But action could also be taken now.
Ban said the Compact aimed at "improving the health of the oceans" and strengthening their management through an action plan to be overseen by a high-level advisory group.
This would be made up of senior policymakers, scientists and ocean experts, representatives from the private sector and civil society and leaders of the UN organisations involved.
Endangered sharks in U.S. restaurants
Shark attack survivors collected 32 shark fin soup samples from 14 cities across the United States. DNA analysis indicated that 26 bowls contained fins from sharks listed as endangered, vulnerable or near threatened.
The endangered shark species -- scalloped hammerhead -- was found in a sample from Boston. Other shark species in the samples included smooth hammerheads, school sharks and spiny dogfish, which are all listed as vulnerable to extinction; and other near threatened species such as bull and copper sharks.
Liz Karan, manager of global shark conservation at the Pew Environment Group, a global conservation advocate, said in an online statement that the study is further proof that shark fin soup in the United States -- not just in Asia -- is contributing to the global decline of sharks.
Karan said there was no way consumers could identify the type of sharks in their soups. She said people ordering the soup might be consuming an endangered species without knowing it.
"Think twice before ordering it," she said.
The soup, brewed from dried shark fins, is largely tasteless but is considered as a symbol of wealth in Asian countries. The delicacy is almost a must-have in banquets to celebrate weddings, anniversaries and important corporate and state events.
Demian Chapman, assistant director of science at the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University and co-author of the study, said he wasn't surprised at all by the results because shark fin trade is "very, very poorly regulated."
"The fin soup in the U.S. is not necessarily from sharks caught in the U.S.," he said. "It might be imported. Globally speaking every nation gets very poor marks monitoring this international trade."
U.S. President Barack Obama signed the Shark Conservation Act into law in 2011. The act addresses loopholes in a law passed a decade ago in an effort to curb shark finning, the practice of cutting off a shark's fins and dumping its body overboard, sometimes when it is still alive.
The new law requires any vessel to land sharks with their fins attached and prevents non-fishing vessel from transporting fins without their carcasses.
China, one of the biggest markets for shark fins, said in July that it would ban shark fin soup from official banquets. Though there is doubt as to how effective the order is in provinces far away from the central power, experts say it is a significant step forward.
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