MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Sharks, tigers, cacti, various types of wood…. What do these all have in common? They are the focus of discussion at a conference in The Hague by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES.
This organization decides which species are at risk of dying out because of trade, and tries to regulate their sale. And the decisions CITES makes affects not just fisherman and farmers but those who rely on these species to stay in business. Ashley Milne-Tyte reports.
ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE: Mahogany is one of the woods on the agenda at the CITES conference. Certain species are getting scarce. Christian Martin is CEO of the Martin Guitar Company, which has been in his family for 174 years. He says he’s been raising his prices lately, because his mahogany suppliers always tell him the same thing:
CHRISTIAN MARTIN:“The price is going up and we can’t give you your entire order.” So we’re looking at alternatives, but all of us who build guitars have done a wonderful job of convincing our customers that rosewood, mahogany, ebony and spruce are the best woods, and so the customers continue to demand those woods.
They’re using other woods like cherry, he says, but they don’t have the same cachet. As for why some species are running out, Roddy Gabel of CITES says consumerism may have something to do with it.
RODDY GABEL: There are things that sort of become fads and all of a sudden something that was little used… there’s a big demand for it.
Take precious coral, he says. The U.S. would like to see trade in coral regulated. Elliott Norse is with the Marine Conservation Biology Institute. He says coral, which sells for around $75 to $450 a pound, used to be much harder to collect.
ELLIOTT NORSE: Now we have trawlers and sonar that allows us to pinpoint them and rip them off the sea floor and turn them into jewelry — and as a result, they’re disappearing.
One big name is trying to stop that. Tiffany no longer sells precious coral. But Tiffany doesn’t rely on coral to stay in business. The Martin Guitar Company’s Christian Martin says companies like his have to ensure that certain tree species survive. He has a 2-year-old daughter who, he says, might want to run the family firm one day.
MARTIN: I don’t want to have to say to her, “Gee Claire, I’m really sorry, but we cut down the last tree and we have to close the business.”
In New York, I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.
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