Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 20, 2017

Contact: Miyoko Sakashita, (510) 844-7108,

Chambered Nautilus Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection

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

WASHINGTON— The National Marine Fisheries Service proposed Endangered Species Act protection today for the chambered nautilus, which is threatened with extinction due to overharvesting for the international shell trade.

In response to a scientific petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Fisheries Service proposed 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 these animals like tourist trinkets is driving them to the brink, so it’s incredibly important they get Endangered Species Act protections. Without help the nautilus will face extinction in decades,” said Miyoko Sakashita with the Center. “Sharing a planet with ancient creatures gives us perspective on life, and it’s our moral responsibility to ensure they don’t go extinct on our watch.”

Today’s action is a first step toward Endangered Species Act protections that could curtail imports of chambered nautilus shells and help prevent the extinction of populations in the Indo-Pacific. The United States needs 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.

Recently 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), which will curb international trade. The parties to CITES decided to extend protections to the nautilus at their October 2016 meeting in South Africa.

“The chambered nautilus is being collected and sold into extinction for jewelry and other trinkets,” Sakashita said. “It’s a tragedy. The protection of the Endangered Species Act could play a lifesaving role for these incredible animals.”

More information on the chambered nautilus can be found here.

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 1.5 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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