Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Palau Nabs Illegal Fishing Vessel

Palau President Tommy Remengesau and Matt Rand of The Pew Charitable Trusts
On 21 January the President of Palau’s office participated in the launch of Project Eyes on the Seas, a technology system that will help monitor, detect, and respond to suspected illegal fishing activity across the world.

This system was developed by Satellite Applications Catapult, a British company established through a U.K. government initiative and The Pew Charitable Trusts, a U.S. non-governmental organization that President Tommy Remengesau has asked to assist with an enforcement plan for the Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS). Project Eyes on the Seas and its marine sanctuary Virtual Watch Room will be available to assist with protection of the PNMS.

The Palau Marine Law Enforcement is putting illegal fishing vessels on notice. “Palau is working with our security partners in the U.S., Australia and Japan as well as organizations like Pew to develop a surveillance and enforcement system that ensures bad actors cannot run or hide in Palau’s EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone).” The President said.

“I certainly commend and thank Pew and its development partners for making this pioneering effort possible for Palau. This is an outstanding first step in Palau’s efforts to fully monitor and protect its EEZ. In less than 24 hours after launching Project Eyes on the Seas, Palau’s Marine Law Enforcement Monitoring team coordinated with the H.I. Remeliik for the successful apprehension of a suspected Illegal fishing vessel they have been monitoring since December 8, 2014”. President Remengesau said.

“Pew and its partners have helped to deliver on their commitment to making the PNMS a reality. If the PNMS legislation was already in effect, the effort to protect and enforce Palau's waters would be greatly enhanced and with the proper fines in place, a significant deterrent would be set. The Republic of Palau must now deliver with the PNMS legislation pending in congress. I would also like to add that if the PNMS had been passed and in place already, we would be looking at a fine for this vessel of $500,000 to 1 million dollars should it be convicted of illegal fishing.” President Remengesau added.

The proposed Palau National Marine Sanctuary, which –once finalized –will ban all foreign fishing in Palau’s EEZ and create a 500,000 square kilometer fully protected marine reserve. Legislation to formally designate the PNMS is pending in the Palau Congress and has a number of provisions to enhance prosecution of illegal fishing including increasing the maximum fine from $50,000 to $1 million USD and confiscation of fishing equipment. In addition, it provides for $1 million punitive fines to “replace” the lost resource and allow for confiscation of the vessel.

In early 2015 - in partnership with Pew and Scripps Institution of Oceanography - Palau will host a Marine Control, Surveillance and Enforcement workshop to develop a comprehensive plan to protect Palau’s EEZ from illegal fishing and other illicit activities. The workshop will include issue experts from Palau’s partner nations as well as non-governmental organizations.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Turks & Caicos: Beautiful by Nature

Guest Blog
by Tina Randall & Jackie Walker

Help Wanted: Sharks
Conservation for the future of sharks in danger in Turks & Caicos.

He surfaces from the deep, his black shadow resembling a creature in the night. His fin skims the surface. The lifeguard blows his whistle and with that everybody is out of the water: SHARK! Jaws has done nothing to aid the reputation of the mysterious shark, leaving many to ask the question, “Why should we protect sharks if they are so scary?” Ever since Steven Spielberg created a 25 foot killer shark almost 40 years ago sharks have since been depicted as man-eaters. That is our greatest misconception. Did you know more people die every year from vending machine accidents or lightning than they do of shark attacks? Sharks may have a bad reputation, but they are an integral part of our marine ecosystem.

Sharks are often apex predators, meaning they are at the top of the food chain with few natural predators. Healthy and biologically diverse shark populations are important to maintain balance in marine ecosystems. Sharks regulate fish abundance by feeding on fish below them in the food chain. Sharks can have a varied diet, which keeps the reef healthy by promoting biodiversity.

Sharks control the ocean ecosystem as top-down predators; if sharks disappear there are no predators to eat the carnivorous fish, like snapper, that in turn eat the herbivorous fish, such as damselfish. The herbivores consume and manage the amount of algae on a reef—if there is too much algae, it starts to overtake the reef and suffocate the living coral. In a nutshell, fewer sharks means fewer herbivorous fish, more algae, and less coral. Dying reefs do not attract high-end tourists, nor do they protect beaches from the ravages of storm waves.

Fortunately, the Turks & Caicos Islands are home to many shark species, including: great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran), Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi), nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum), tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier), and lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris). This is why there is such beautiful coral reefs surrounding the islands. We have open water sharks that travel thousands of miles and resident sharks that patrol their territory on the reef, all contributing to a healthy ecosystem and economy.

You may ask, “If there are so many sharks in TCI’s waters, why should we care about shark conservation?” Keeping the marine environment balanced and healthy helps the community, economy, and tourism. Protecting the marine environment helps to keep the Turks & Caicos Islands a premium eco-tourism destination. Tourism here is dominated by people who come for white sand beaches and pristine snorkeling/diving conditions. If the reefs die, tourism will surely follow. Where else on Earth can you kayak with baby Lemon Sharks, snorkel with a Nurse Shark, or dive with Caribbean reef sharks?

Sharks are some of the oldest creatures on this planet with species dating back more than 400 million years! You would think they are invincible, as they outlived dinosaurs and are still one of the top predators in the ocean. However, shark populations are in global decline due to an increase in demand for shark products and as unwanted by-catch in commercial fisheries. Scientists estimate that approximately 100 million sharks are killed every year.

Most shark species are extremely vulnerable to overfishing. They are often mistakenly managed like fish, rather than the mammals (such as dolphins and whales) that their life histories much more closely resemble. Sharks are slow to grow, mature late, and produce fewer offspring than other fish species. Nearly 30% of known shark species fully assessed by scientists are threatened with extinction and another 26% close to becoming threatened in the near future. Their decline is not sustainable, and before we know it we will no longer get to experience these exhilarating and humbling animals in our waters and will be left with the consequences.

Now is the time to act before damage to the delicate marine ecosystem is irreversible. You can help: Educate yourself about the threats our oceans are facing; be careful what you eat; avoid buying shark products; help keep our oceans clean; go diving or snorkeling with sharks! Support shark conservation by posting or tweeting your favorite picture of a shark, a craft project or poster to #tcisharks.

Have you met Shark Stanley? This happy hammerhead shark is the face of an outreach and awareness campaign to support global shark conservation efforts. This campaign is dedicated to creating permanent shark protection and supporting proper management of shark and ray species worldwide. Maybe you’ve read his book, and have been introduced to his friends Manta Reigna or Pierre the Porbeagle. This sociable guy is trying to get the word out that “Healthy reefs need sharks.” He will gladly swim to your festival, event, or business to promote his cause. Also check out or for more information.

Maintaining healthy shark populations in our waters is an insurance policy which will help us maintain TCI’s ecological and economic resilience. Permanent shark protection is needed. And, it would add prestige to the TCI brand, as one of only 10 countries that have stepped up for sharks. Both the Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands have recognized their vital role and implemented permanent protection. Real shark conservation and preservation will only add to our “Beautiful by Nature” Turk & Caicos Islands.

Tina Randall lives in the Turks & Caicos Islands and has a BSc. Environmental Biology. She is TCI's Shark Stanley Ambassador. You can follow her adventures saving sharks in the Caribbean on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

ACTION ALERT: Don't Gut Global Protected Area Targets!

There is a real risk that the World Parks Congress will gut the updated target they issue for no-take marine protection.

Retweet this tweet to show your support for protecting 20-30% of our ocean

At the last World Parks Congress in Durban 11 years ago – a marine no-take target was issued of 20-30% no-take of all habitats by 2012. WPC is a global expert forum – that target had the status of providing expert advice to the world’s leaders, governments and convention processes on what they should aspire to achieve. There is a very real risk that that target will be reduced to 5% no-take as the global marine target. This would be a disaster for marine protection globally, and all of the marine park campaigns and programs around the world.

This large target is still on the table, but we need to hold that in place for the next 24 hours leading into the final day of WPC tomorrow when the targets will be locked-in. Today is the last day for influencing this, ahead of tomorrow’s WPC Plenary when the WPC Resolutions will be confirmed.

Can you use Twitter and Facebook as soon as possible today to send a message – a suggested one is below. Reword this as you wish, but please keep the tone sharp but encouraging – no need to mention any numbers. Please use the hashtag #NatureNeedsHalf.

It’s time for a bold aspirational target for marine no-take protection of the world’s oceans @WpcSydney @IUCN #NatureNeedsHalf

You can also retweet this tweet to show your support for protecting 20-30% of our ocean

Thank you!!!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Dare to Change the World

Guest Post
by Arthur Sokimi

I’m sitting here at the airport in Quito thinking about the incredible week here at the Eleventh Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species. I’m also thinking about the long and painful journey ahead of me and my fellow Fijian delegate, Saras Sharma of the Ministry of Fisheries. Sharma, by the way, is sleeping on a seat next to me in the departure lounge. I am really envious of people who sleep so easily! She’ll need it. Over the next two days we are flying from Quito to Miami to Los Angeles and finally on to Fiji. I’ll get a lot of reading done – you can only watch Guardians of the Galaxy so many times – but I expect my bottom is going to be very sore again!

As I sit here I am in very high spirits. Yesterday marked a monumental moment for shark and ray conservation. All 21 species of sharks and rays that were proposed for listing on CMS Appendices I and II were adopted by the plenary during the last day of deliberations at the CMS COP 11. Even Chile and Peru, who had initially been opposed to the listing of silky sharks, came around in the eleventh hour and voiced their support.

Congratulations are due to all the countries that were successful and I sincerely thank everyone for supporting Fiji’s proposals!

As a member of the Fiji delegation I am immensely proud of my country and fellow delegation members. We took our first CMS COP by storm with a proposal to list 9 mobula and reef mantas on the two appendices. I am truly honoured to have been a part of this fabulous team led by our gentle giant and personification of humility, Mr. Aisake Batibasaga of the Ministry of Fisheries. His leadership was a pillar of strength for us less-experienced members of the delegation. Saras managed everything for our team from before we left Fiji until now. We were blessed to have her be our calm, yet surprisingly firm, voice. My buddy Ian Campbell of the WWF Shark Programme was our joker and also technical person, and despite his bad jokes, he proved to be indispensable.

Thank you to our hosts, the Ecuadorian government, particularly the Minister of Environment Lorena Tapia, and the wonderful people of Ecuador for being delightful hosts and allowing us to experience and enjoy their beautiful home.

Congratulations and heartfelt thanks to the CMS Secretariat for all the hard work and making this COP a memorable and productive one.

Thank you to all our partners who helped the Fiji delegation with drafting our proposals and getting us to Quito. The Pew Charitable Trusts, WWF, The Manta Trust, and SPREP head this distinguished list.

And huge thanks to all the bubbly personalities from around the world. It was particularly great to see Perry, Luke, Isabel, and KerriLynn again.

I have been working on shark conservation for a few years. Yet this was the first time for me to work on shark conservation on the global stage. I am filled with happiness and am grateful to have had had the opportunity to be but a small part of this.

I hope this feeling lasts the entire 48 hours or so it is going to take to get me back to my own bed in Suva, Fiji. I leave inspired, knowing that our work is only just beginning. The theme of CMS COP 11 was “Time for Action,” and I plan to take this home as my personal mantra in the coming months.

We have reached the threshold where human inaction may lead to a bleak future, not only for migratory species and nature, but for us humans also. We must take the steps necessary to set things on the right track.

Minister Tapia told us in her closing remarks, “It is time for us to dare to change the world.”

Challenge accepted, and I humbly ask you to join me.

Arthur Sokimi is the director of outreach for Shark Defenders. He lives in Suva, Fiji. You can follow Arthur on Twitter.
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