A great initiative has emerged in the Pacific this week. In a move to protect sharks, the Marshall Islands government has created the world's largest shark sanctuary, covering nearly 2 million km2 of ocean, an area about a quarter the size of Australia. The Pacific republic will ban trade in shark products and commercial shark fishing throughout its waters. Any accidental catches must be released alive and some fishing gear will be banned. The little populated archipelago depends on tourism, with many of the visitors interested in diving and snorkelling. But sharks and their near relatives such as rays are seriously threatened by issues such as habitat loss and fishing. Because they grow and reproduce relatively slowly, sharks are especially vulnerable to factors such as accidental or targeted fishing.
Threatened species “The momentum for protecting these animals continues to spread across the globe”. says Matt Rand from the Pew Environment Group in a BBC article about this initiative. The Marshallese government has worked on the plan with advisors from this US-based organisation that identified archipelago nations as providing big marine conservation ‘wins’ because of the vast scale of their territorial waters.
About a third of ocean-going sharks are on the internationally-recognised Red List of Threatened Species. "In passing this [shark protection] bill, there is no greater statement we can make about the importance of sharks to our culture, environment and economy," said Senator Tony deBrum, who co-sponsored the bill through the Marshallese parliament. "Ours may be a small island nation, but our waters are now the biggest place sharks are protected."
Other initiatives The Marshall Islands follows the lead taken by Palau two years ago, whose sanctuary was then the world's biggest. Other nations including the Bahamas have since followed suit. The Mashall Islands move will almost double the total area of ocean in which sharks are protected (from about 2.7 million km2 to 4.6 million km2). Last month, a group of eight countries including Mexico, Honduras, the Maldives and Northern Mariana Islands signed a declaration announcing they would push for more shark protection across the world. Shark protection measures are also likely to help marine biodiversity overall, as they restrict the rights of fishing vessels and require greater scrutiny of landings.
For sharks to be really safer in the Pacific Ocean, the authorities need to monitor huge expanses of ocean and the question remains of these small nations can do this.
- How do you feel about sharks?
- Are you the kind of person who sees a shark and goes: 'AAAARGH, help!'? Then a shark shield may be the way to go for you: a friendly way to scare them off without harming them.
- Or do you see a shark and go: 'Wow, cool, let me get closer.' ?
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