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Earth Hour? How about endangered species hour?

Just as Earth Hour can pressure governments on global warming, so can consumers push politicians to protect endangered species such as bluefin tuna, several kinds of sharks, and corals -- all of which were abandoned at a UN wildlife conference.

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Millions of people around the world are switching off their lights for Earth Hour Saturday night in a growing grass-roots effort to conserve energy and draw attention to global warming.

But can they also stop eating shark soup or sushi made from bluefin tuna?

That kind of consumer action may be what it takes to save certain endangered marine animals, because governments decided this week not to come to their rescue. About a half-dozen shark species, the bluefin tuna, various corals (yes, corals are animals), and the polar bear all failed to receive international protection at the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

(For Monitor coverage of the CITES meeting, click here.)

This United Nations wildlife group meets every few years to consider whether to restrict the international trade of threatened plant and animal life. Over 35 years, CITES has helped preserve 5,000 animal species and 28,000 plant species by limiting their harvest and sale.

At the meeting just ended, the 175 countries that gathered in Qatar, United Arab Emirates, beat back efforts to relax the trade ban on elephant ivory. And they added protections to for rhinos, various reptiles sold as pets, and wild tigers.

But conservationists were deeply disappointed by the inaction on marine life, which took up more of the CITES agenda than ever before. The threat in oceans and seas has grown. Stocks of the bluefin tuna, for instance, have fallen more than 80 percent since 1970, much of it during the last decade. The fish is a big money-maker, and can sell for $100,000 per fish.


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