It took a week of "intense negotiations", but now 31 species of migratory animals, including the polar bear and a record number of sharks and rays, have won protected status under an international wildlife conservation treaty.

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The silky shark was one of several shark species to win new protections. Image: Clifton Beard, Flickr

The new protections are the outcome of the latest (eleventh) meeting of the – get ready for a mouthful here – Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). That's COP11 for short.

This year's meeting, held in Ecuador's capital, Quito, attracted a record number of delegates, with 900 experts from 120 countries attending.

"The Conference in Quito has generated an unprecedented level of attention for the Convention,” said executive secretary Bradnee Chambers. “Like never before in the 35-year history of CMS, migratory animals have become the global flagships for many of the pressing issues of our time. From plastic pollution in our oceans, to the effects of climate change, to poaching and overexploitation, the threats migratory animals face will eventually affect us all."

Sometimes called the Bonn Convention, the CMS came into force in 1983 with aim of protecting those species of wild animals whose migratory habits tend to take them across national political boundaries (there's a great explainer on the CMS over on Southern Fried Science). 

So how do protections under the CMS actually work?

"Like CITES, CMS allows member states to propose listing of threatened species on different appendices, which have different levels of protection. Appendix I obligates strict protection of that species by member states, [while] appendix II encourages member states to cooperate in the management of that species through regional or global agreements," explains Southern Fried Science's David Shiffman. 

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Strict protections were agreed for reef mantas, devil rays and sawfishes, and delegates agreed to work internationally to conserve all three species of thresher sharks (pictured). Image: Rafn Ingi Finnsson, Flickr

Species that benefited from this year's meeting included the Cuvier’s beaked whale, which was added to Appendix I, and the polar bear, now listed under Appendix II. There were several avian beneficiaries too, with the great bustard finding a spot on Appendix I. Africa's red-fronted gazelle and the European eel were also granted protected status. 

But the biggest winners at the meeting were of the elasmobranch variety (the group that includes sharks, skates and rays). Living up to its nickname of 'the Shark COP', the conference saw a record number of proposals for improved protections for 21 shark, ray and sawfish species approved, a move that's been welcomed by conservation groups. 

“We are elated by the overwhelming commitment expressed by CMS Parties for safeguarding some of the world’s most imperilled shark and ray species, including the highly endangered sawfishes,” said Sonja Fordham of Shark Advocates International, a project of The Ocean Foundation. “[These] unprecedented actions more than triple the number of shark and ray species slated for enhanced conservation initiatives.”

In another first, delegates also discussed threats posed by renewable energy technologies to bats, birds and cetaceans. Guidelines on how wind turbines, solar panels, dams and other forms of renewable energy can be deployed in a wildlife-friendly manner were adopted.

The next CMS meeting will take place in the Philippines in 2017.

Top header image: NOAA Photo Library, Flickr