Today I’m pleased to bring you a guest post from Robin Culler, teacher of the 2010 Junior Ocean Heroes, the Shark Finatics.
What a year this has been for the Shark Finatics! We are still basking in the glory of being named Junior Ocean Heroes and each week many more amazing things come our way.
This past Saturday, I was privileged to be invited to a dinner honoring Palau's President Johnson Toribiong. The prestigious Ocean Heritage Award was presented to the President by the Shark Research Institute in recognition of Palau's Shark Sanctuary.
A year ago, Palau, one of the world's smallest nations, created the first ever shark sanctuary. Commercial fishing of sharks is banned in Palau's territorial waters and its exclusive economic zone, covering 240,000 square miles. More than 130 species of sharks and stingrays, which are considered either endangered or vulnerable, find safe haven in this sanctuary.
On Friday, President Toribiong addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations:
"One issue symbolizes the threat to our biodiversity succinctly: the fight to conserve our oceans. Last year I declared the world’s first shark sanctuary from this podium. It was a good first step. I also advocated for an end to unsustainable, cruel and wasteful shark finning on the high seas at the Fish Stocks Agreement Resumed Review Conference. These creatures are being slaughtered and are at the brink of extinction unless we take positive action to protect them. We cannot accept the loss of 73 million sharks a year for a bowl of soup.”
“Palau is doing all it can, but this work cannot stop at the boundary of one country. We are all connected. This is why I am proud that President Lobo Sosa of Honduras and I signed this week a Joint Declaration calling on other nations to stop unsustainable shark fishing."
When asked what he wanted other world leaders to do, President Toribiong said, “Simply follow suit."
Elsewhere, the Maldives have also come to the realization that letting sharks live is more advantageous than killing them. Hawaii has recently passed a law which prohibits the possession of shark fins. Slowly, around the world, people are coming to realize that live sharks are worth much more than dead ones.
President Toribiong, the First Lady Valeria Toribiong, and other members of the Palaun delegation were humble and gracious guests at the dinner held at the Katano Hotel in NYC. The President was very appreciative of the honor bestowed upon him and the people of Palau. The First Lady remarked with a smile, "All the sharks are clapping."
They took time to talk to all the guests and genuinely enjoyed being in the presence of many like-minded people. I introduced myself to the President and told him that I teach children about sharks. He shook my hand, looked me in the eyes, and said, "Thank you."
Whoever would have thought a few years ago that I would have a world leader thanking me! And to make my night complete, President Toribiong and the First Lady left with copies of the Finatics' book, "Our Shark Story." Invitations were extended to come see Palau and right now, I can think of nowhere else I would rather visit.
Don’t forget to take action to protect sharks here in the U.S. -- tell your Senators to support the Shark Conservation Act, which would end shark finning in U.S. waters once and for all.