With as many as a third of all shark species in the world facing some threat of extinction, the future of sharks has been in peril for some time now. This month, however, French Polynesia and the Cook Islands have taken a stand for sharks, creating adjacent shark sanctuaries covering 2.5 million square miles of ocean – an area nearly equal to the continent of Australia! With this move, French Polynesia and the Cook Islands join Palau, the Maldives, Honduras, the Bahamas, the Marshall Islands, and Tokelau as countries that have created shark sanctuaries, more than doubling the area worldwide now off-limits to shark fishing. This largest sanctuary in the world also bans the possession, sale, or trade of shark products within its boundaries.
On December 6, French Polynesia created the world’s largest shark sanctuary at 1.5 million square miles, and the neighboring nation of the Cook Islands followed suit on December 19 with its designation of its entire exclusive economic zone – an area equal to the size of Mexico at 756,000 square miles -- as dedicated shark sanctuary waters. “We are proud as Cook Islanders to provide our entire exclusive economic zone…as a shark sanctuary,” Teina Bishop, Cook Island minister of marine resources told BBC News.
It’s not every day that you hear about the Marshall Islands. Scattered across a swath of the Pacific Ocean, these islands are home to only about 68,000 people. But as of this week, the waters around these islands may become home to a whole lot more sharks.
That’s because the government has decided to make all of its waters—more than 750,000 square miles, or about the size of Mexico—a shark sanctuary. This move will almost double the area in which sharks are protected globally.
Within the Marshall Islands, it will now be illegal to commercially fish sharks, sell any shark products, and use wire leaders (a type of fishing gear often responsible for shark deaths). In addition, all sharks caught accidentally must be released, and fishing boats will be required to bring all their catch directly to port for inspection—an important step in combating seafood fraud. Fines for having shark products will run the equivalent of $25,000 to $200,000.
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.