Sunday, July 31, 2011

How Jaws made the shark a monster in our minds

Guest Blog
by Lee-Anne Lee

HOW do you feel when the word shark is mentioned? Do you feel fear, excitement, sadness, blessed?

For my four-year old nephew Kieran, a shark is a friendly animal named Lenny from the animation movie Shark Tail. When I left Fiji on this voyage, Kieran asked that if I saw Lenny if I could say hi for him. I feel Kieran is lucky in that he has only good feelings toward sharks unlike myself who grew up watching the movie Jaws, fear of them and thinking that they are only man eaters were instilled in me at a young age. I ask myself, "why do I fear sharks when I haven't even encountered one while swimming in the ocean?" I can only put my fear down to how sharks are perceived in movies and the media.

I recently watched a documentary called Sharkwater produced in 2007 which has changed my way of thinking toward these amazing sea creatures. I learnt and have extracted some info from the documentary which I feel is important to changing people's fear toward sharks as it has for me.

Sharks have been around before the dinosaurs and are the only large animal that's remained unchanged for 400 million years.

New animals to evolve in the ocean have been shaped by their predators, the sharks, giving rise to schooling behaviour, camouflage, speed, size and communication.

Sharks control the population below them, eliminating species that are easy prey and creating new ones. Even though sharks have very few young and take up to 25 years to reach sexual maturity they have managed to survive through five major extinctions that wiped most life from the planet. They are architects of our world. They are the perfect predators that hold the underworld in balance.

The fact is sharks do not eat people. Most sharks lack the equipment they need to go after large animals like us and they know that.

They have evolved to eat certain prey animals and most sharks are picky eaters.

When a shark mistake does happen, the person inevitably ends up back on shore. In most shark attacks flesh is never removed.

Even in the odd case where someone dies it's usually because of blood loss not because the shark ate the person.

With so many shark diving tours in Fiji taking out hundreds of divers each year, I have not heard of one shark attack. Shouldn't this say tell us they are not the man eaters most of us are led to believe.

If you look at statistics more people die from car accidents, drug-related problems, drowning etc than shark attacks. I've been told that divers understand them better because they come face to face with these magnificent creatures and most of the time the sharks are more scared of the diver than the diver is of the shark. Sharks are just like dogs. You tease them or intimidate them you get bitten, no difference. A dog chases a car, a bicycle or a jogger but a shark will rarely chase a surfboard or a trawling line or a diver. Skipper says that sharks don't like biting Fijians because the shark's mouth gets all numb from all the kava that Fijians drink.

Peter Benchly who directed and Stan Waterman who was involved in the under water filming of Jaws (who skipper knows personally) said they deeply regretted making the movie because of the negative impact it had on sharks after the movie was released.

Stan Waterman, who is in his 80s and is still an avid diver, has been and still is very vocal and passionate about the conservation and protection of sharks.

We need to be start protecting these helpless creatures. We need to implement laws in Fiji to stop the slaughtering of sharks for their fins. Think twice people when you order a shark fin soup.

The ocean is basically the life support system of the planet. To change that life support system in any major way is a risky thing.

A few of the crew members on the Uto Ni Yalo who have their diving certificate have convinced me to get mine as well which I will surely be doing when I get home. I know my heart will most probably start racing when I finally come face to face with a shark but I am looking forward to facing my fear and experience swimming among these amazing magnificent creatures in the near future.

Here are some statistics that will most probably shock you as it did me:

* The world's shark population is estimated to have declined by 90 per cent.

* Sharks kill 5 people each year.

* Elephants and tigers: 100

* Execution: 2,400

* Illegal drugs: 22,000

* Road Accidents: 1,200,000

* Starvation: 8,000,000

In just one year crocodiles around the world wiped out as many people as sharks have killed over the past 100. Crocodiles are protected.

Lee-Anne Lee is aboard the Uto Ni Yalo sailing from Fiji to San Francisco.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Guam Shark Tsunami

Guam is the third place in the world to ban the sale, trade, and possession of shark fin. Advocates for the ban included hundreds and thousands of school children from Simon Sanchez High School and George Washington High School.

The students attended a public hearing for the shark fin ban held on February 1, 2011. The students came prepared with written and spoken testimony, posters, and even a shark costume.

The students were ultimately able to build so much support that the bill unanimously passed the Guam Senate and went on to be signed by Governor Eddie Calvo on March 9, 2011.

Fiji Times: Safe by my brother

UNDER the fast-flowing currents of the Somosomo Strait, sharks roam free happily.

They do not fear the two-legged predators who come from land and brought their world population after 415 million years of existence to the brink of extinction.

From the depth of the darkness of this stretch to the light blue waters closer to the coastlines in Cakaudrove, they feel free to hunt the reefs for food, free to rule the seas and maintaining its life cycle as the top-of-the-food-chain predator.

This is their home, home of Dakuwaqa, the ancient shark god, protector of the paramount chief of the province, the Tui Cakau.

The waters of Somosomo Strait have been the backyard of this king of the seas, feared, captivating and mystifying.

His home, Benau - an island which closer to Vanua Levu than Taveuni, home of the Tui Cakau - sits in this strait.

Benau is among evidence of a relationship between the shark and Fiji, in this case the people of the mataqali Ai Sokula, the chiefly bloodline of the Tui Cakau, who legend has it was a twin of Dakuwaqa.

When the twins were born, they were put in a basket made of leaves and left to drift at sea. One turned into a shark, the other was rescued by the people of the Ai Sokula. They returned to land with this child from the sea, escorted by the shark god who promised to protect his brother and his people.

The people of the Ai Sokula embraced the child as their chief and today Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, the current Tui Cakau, has given his support to a campaign to protect sharks and push for legislation to turn Fiji's waters into a shark sanctuary.

His gonedau (traditional fishermen) are originally from Rukua in Beqa. They visited Somosomo when they heard news of the twins' birth because they also believed in a shark god called Gone Mai Wai (child from the sea).

Today, these gonedau make up the mataqali Benau in Somosomo.

Moved by the Pew Environmental Group for shark sanctuaries around the world as their numbers drop drastically - estimated at 73 million killings annually - campaigners are racing against time to create awareness and safeguard the guardian of the reefs on which we depend on for our survival.

Without the sharks, the middle predators will take control, feeding on smaller fish that live off the micro organisms that attack and smother the coral.

The death of the coral, says leading shark conservation campaigner Manoa Rasigatale, will mean the death of the islands.

"We must act now to save the future for our children. The existence of the sharks ensures a balance in the life cycle that sustains our world. The shark is our friend. Our world is still here because sharks survived the ages," he says.

"The dinosaurs disappeared off the face of the planet after appearing 180 million years in the wake of the sharks. Our relationship with the shark is an ancient one, one based on veiyalayalati (agreement) that either will look after their own habitat - man on land, shark in water."

The overfishing of sharks for their fins, meat and by-products has driven their population down in most parts of the world. While it is stable in our islands, Mr Rasigatale - Fiji's sharkman - says we must act quickly.

With the help of The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), and the Ministry of Fisheries which is holding consultation and drawing up proposals on permanent shark protection, the sharkman and Pew hope Fiji follows the island of Palau, which declared the world's first national shark sanctuary.

That led to other shark sanctuaries in other states such as the Maldives, Guam, Saipan, Honduras and the Bahamas.

Fiji is now poised to lead the region as the first Melanesian nation to enact similar full shark protection.

"Our relationship with the shark is unique, especially the people of Cakaudrove, Rukua in Beqa, Yanuca in Serua and Kadavu. All their legends involve the shark and his promise to protect them. It is now our turn to do our part," he says.

The people of Cakaudrove have a lot of respect for the sharks. The sharks accompany their paramount chief when he is out at sea, escorting his boat as a naval fleet would a flagship.

And they patrol the waters off Somosomo in unison when he dies. This was evident during the traditional funeral rites of the last four holders of the Tui Cakau title - Ratu Josefa Lalabalavu, Ratu Ratavo Lalabalavu, Ratu Penaia Ganilau and Ratu Glanville Lalabalavu.

Metres from the seawall, they cruised up and down alongside the village green, as guards would for their king. This was captured in a Fiji Times photograph when Ratu Penaia's body lay in state in Somosomo in 1993.

"It's a phenomenon, a relationship steeped in mana and sacred. The sharks protect these people when they are at sea. They are not bitten, unless they have offended the vanua."

In 2002, while transporting 11 islanders from Vuna to Vatuvara, a boat capsized in treacherous seas. Nine people died, two survived.

They were the boat captain - Umu Vulakoro from Yacata, a subject of the Tui Cakau - and a man from Kadavu, whose link with the shark god stems from a promise Dakuawaqa made to the people of Kadavu when he lost a challenge to the guardian of the reef at the Naceva bay, an octopus called Bakaniceva.

In a documented interview in Fijian with the sharkman, Mr Vulakoro tells of the horror of losing his passengers as they battled the waves to stay alive.

They prayed to God to save them and in desperation yelled out across the sea that threatened to engulf them for help from their ancient friend.

Then out of the water, a great white shape appeared and pushed them across the waves. Tired and exhausted, Mr Vulakoro and the Kadavuan were taken close to land and thrown on to a reef.

They lived to tell their story and still travel the seas where the shark god is said to roam.

"These two men had links to the shark. In their moment of desperation, their prayers were answered. It is no coincidence, it is an understanding that we must respect and continue. Conservation is not a new thing. Our ancestors practised it to control fish stocks for their future, we must also for ours.

"The sharks keep the marine life cycle intact, they keep our reefs healthy, they bring in the tourists and their dollars and they ensure our sustainability.

"The world can't do without them, certainly not we in Fiji."

Ratu Naiqama's decision to protect the sharks in the waters of his jurisdiction is really the continuation of what his ancestors have done.

From the tiny island of Benau to the borders of Cakaudrove, the sharks have a home. The reefs remain full of life and the people feel safer in the water with friends they are helping in their time of need.

Kubuna, Burebasaga and Kadavu have also offered their support and protection in their waters.

The sharkman is happy.

After sailing the Pacific Ocean on the historic double-hulled Uto Ni Yalo last year in the wake of our ancestors who journeyed from island to island, nation to nation, finding common ground between cultures and languages, the sharks have taught him a simple lesson.

Without them, we'd be just like the dinosaurs.

Here today, gone tomorrow.

* Next Monday: Around the world in shark time.

Published in the Fiji Times on Monday, July 25, 2011

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Fiji Times: Haven for ancient predator

SHARKMAN Manoa Rasigatale hopes the sanctuary given to sharks by the people of Cakaudrove will reward them in tourism dollars.

He said live sharks were worth more than sharks dead.

"I thank the Turaga na Tui Cakau, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, for his assurance that Cakaudrove will support the protection of sharks. He has said that the island of Benau will be a sanctuary for sharks," said Mr Rasigatale, who leads the campaign for shark conservation.

The sharkman, working with Pew Environment Group and the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), is pushing for legislation to turn Fiji's waters into a shark haven.

The Ministry of Fisheries is drafting a proposal for Cabinet to approve. Mr Rasigatale said Cakaudrove, and the rest of Fiji, should learn from countries that have given sharks sanctuaries.

He said the Bahamas earned $US78million ($F137.9m) annually from shark-related tourism activities.

The confederacies of Kubuna, Burebasaga and Tovata are supporting the campaign.

Posted in The Fiji Times on Monday, July 25, 2011.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

New York Times: The Peak and Life Below It

A familiar metaphor for nature is the pyramid of life, with large predators living at the peak because they’re few in number and eat species lower on the pyramid. Like most simple metaphors, this one has a perceptual flaw. It creates the illusion that large predators have an effect only on the prey species immediately below them. The truth, as a growing body of scientific studies shows, is that the presence, and absence, of top predators cascades all through nature in surprisingly complex ways.

Our species has done a sadly efficient job of removing top predators: wolves, bears, lions, tigers, sharks and many more. According to the authors of a new article in Science magazine, “the loss of these animals may be humankind’s most pervasive influence on nature.”

The loss of cougars in what is now Zion National Park led to an “eruption” of mule deer, which reduced riverbank vegetation and, ultimately, changed the shape of stream channels. The loss of sea otters along the Pacific Coast led to the destruction of kelp forests and the many creatures they supported. The effect includes herbivores. When disease decimated wildebeest in East Africa in the late 19th century, grassland turned to shrubs and into fuel for wildfires, changing the ecosystem.

In the rare cases where top predators have been reintroduced, the benefit is profound. The success of gray wolves in Yellowstone changed many things. Grizzlies fed on their kills. Coyote numbers dropped and the numbers of small mammals climbed. Elk spent less time in creek bottoms, where they were more vulnerable, and streamside ecology changed as a result.

It is now clear that biological diversity increases when top predators are present. The pyramid is healthiest when its peak is still present and when humans aren’t the only top predators around.

Printed in the New York Times on July 18, 2011

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Shark Protections in Marshall Islands Moving Forward

Whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus) on the coral reef near Rita, Majuro, Marshall Islands
Marshall Islands Mayors Association calls on all local councils to ban shark fishing

This week the Marshall Islands Mayors Association passed a resolution requesting all local governments in the RMI to enact ordinances prohibiting the sale and trade of shark or shark fins.

The resolution recognized the critical role that sharks play in healthy coral reef ecosystems, and the efforts being made in shark protection by the Micronesian jurisdictions of Palau, Guam and CNMI, as well as other areas including the Bahamas, Hondruas, Maldives, and Hawaii. The resolution further recognized the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority for the moratorium on the sale of shark fins.

Without sharks to regulate the abundance of species below them, shifts in populations of species can disrupt the balance of the ecosystem. In the Marshall Islands, the loss of reef sharks may result in an increase in numbers of large fish. These large fish could then eat all the smaller fish and we risk losing our favorite food fish such as Mole, Kwi, Mone and others from the reef, according to the Marshall Islands Conservation Society.

This has another serious affect on the health of the reef, said officials with the Conservation Society. If fish, which eat algae, are reduced in number, algae will grow over the coral, killing the reefs and leaving the islands more vulnerable to climate change.

Sharks have a long life cycle and reproduce late in life, so they are very sensitive to fishing pressure - and an estimated 70 million sharks are killed each year for fins alone. Shark fins are used for soup, mostly in restaurants and primarily in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

MICS said in the RMI, shark fins are being traded for around $2 per pound on the outer islands. Meanwhile those same fins are sold for up to $700 a pound in the markets of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. It is the traders who are benefiting, not Marshallese, said MICS.

Albon Ishoda, Director of
Marshall Islands Conservation Society

"Who are the losers?" asked Albon Ishoda, director of MICS. "If we lose our sharks, we could lose our food fish. We could lose our healthy reefs. And the world could lose these amazing creatures that have been on earth for over 400 million years as they are hunted to extinction."

"If we can take that bowl of soup, that one item off the menu, we can save our ecosystems all over the world," says Stefanie Brendl, a shark expert from Hawaii who was in Majuro last week discussing the global movement to protect sharks. There are reports that the levels of shark finning occurring on some outer islands may have damaged the populations already and they may take many years to recover.

Published in the Marshall Islands Journal on July 21, 2011. Follow the shark conservation efforts in the Marshall Islands on Facebook with the Marshall Islands Conservation Society and Micronesia Shark Defenders.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Pacific Shark Fin Trader

The race card gets played a lot in the shark fin soup debate, but the debate usually concerns Asian cultures. How about the cultures where the sharks are being killed? Shark populations in the Pacific are being hammered, mostly so that wealthy people in large cities can enjoy a status-building bowl of soup. Meanwhile, Pacific islanders on isolated atolls are forced to live with the ecological consequences of an ocean without sharks. Scientific studies have shown that sharks regulate the health of marine ecosystems, including coral reefs. No sharks equals no coral reefs, and Pacific people depend on coral reefs for their livelihoods, daily sustenance, and self-identification.

The recent shark conservation measures in Palau, Hawaii, Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam, as well as pending measures in Fiji, Marshall Islands, and across Micronesia highlight how Pacific Islanders care deeply about sharks and understand their integral connection to healthy oceans, as well as culture. Manoa Rasigatale explained his people's connection to sharks in a story in yesterday's Fiji Times; similar cultural connections can be found across Oceania.

The overfishing of sharks is harming Pacific ecosystems, Pacific livelihoods, and Pacific cultures. This connection to culture should make its way into the shark conservation and shark fin ban discussion, especially in California, home to tens of thousands of Chamorros, Palauans, Tongans, Marshallese, Fijians, Refaluwasch, Samoans, Hawaiians, and other ethnic Polynesians, Micronesians, and Melanesians.

The Fiji Times: A place for the shark

Fear them or feel sorry for them. Time isn't on the side of the shark.

Emotional attachments may not protect them unless action is taken to create awareness about the plight of millions of sharks around the world annually.

Considering the shark has existed for 415 million years, having survived the changes of time which the dinosaurs, appearing 185 million years later, could not, their plight is deserving of attention.

Today they are on the brink of extinction.

The international demand for shark's fin, shark meat, and liver oil has reduced the shark population around the world.

Yesterday The Fiji Times started a campaign to create awareness of the great danger this predator of the sea now faces. In partnership with experts and advocates, we will bring you a series of articles and exclusive pictures to help in the protection of the often misunderstood shark, whose existence ensures there is a balance in our marine ecosystems and helps safeguard our reefs for our future generations.

The Fiji Times joins a massive campaign led by the Pew Environment Group and The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), which are working with the Fiji Government, to pass permanent protection laws to safeguard this ancient predator.

A drastic reduction in the number of sharks could cause unpredictable and irreversible damage to the ocean and to economic activities, such as tourism, that benefit from healthy marine habitats.

Sadly though, a study of the Hong Kong shark's fin market estimated that up to 73 million sharks are killed each year simply to supply the fin trade. Scientists believe there are more than 100 million sharks killed annually for fins, meat and other products.

The fact that experts have indicated changes in the number of sharks visible on guided dives in a number of tourist spots in the country is worrying. It does raise the issue of our involvement in the shark fin trade.

If that is happening in the country, it raises the issue of whether there is an opportunity for a concerted effort to find out how big the business is in Fiji.

Interestingly, the question of whether placing a ban on shark's fin soup could reduce the number of sharks killed merely for their fins annually is one that will be met with scepticism.

An effective awareness campaign targeted at the people involved in this lucrative trade could have a positive impact.

Movies like Jaws unveiled a monster of the sea.

It firmly placed the fear factor on sharks. This campaign is about putting the shark in its right place.

Lest we forget, the shark has an important place in the mechanics of marine life as we know it.

Published on the Fiji Times editorial page on Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ratu Manoa Rasigatale: Sharkman of Fiji

Ratu Manoa Rasigatale in Rewa
WHEN Manoa Rasigatale talks about sharks, he is passionate.

He oozes with admiration for this ancient predator and has made it a personal mission to make people give sharks the respect they deserve.

“They are very intelligent, very sophisticated, beautiful, loved and they’re feared.

“Sharks are among the most friendly, inquisitive and very smart. Humans fear them because they don’t know them. They are an ancient species who have been around through the ages and seen the changes to their world. They should be respected.

“The Fijian people are related to the shark. We have evidence of this in Fiji. The first is the chiefly yavusa of the Ai Sokula from Cakaudrove, home of its paramount chief, the Tui Cakau, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu.

“The second is at Rukua in Beqa in the province of Rewa. The third is the province of Serua on the island of Yanuca. The fourth is the province of Kadavu, a relationship forged between the shark god Dakuwaqa and the octopus Bakaniceva.

“In the old days, man and sharks communicated. Man could send the shark to do what man needed done to survive.

“In most of these places, these things could happen because of an understanding between sharks and man. This is where the relationship between sharks and our ancestors were forged.”

Mr Rasigatale says our early fathers had loyalty and belief in the mana of the land and in the “qio” (shark).

Whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus) in Beqa Lagoon.
“The idea of conservation in Fiji is not new, it is from our early days. Our forefathers believed in vakatatabu (to abstain from fishing) in certain areas to allow fish stock to grow. They would fish in one area and allow other fishing grounds to grow and then move on. They did this so they would not be poor.

“God gave them everything in our wasawasa to use properly, and smartly. They were not given these resources to be cruel to or to kill them all at once. Their belief was that if you looked after them, we’d be looked after too. This applies to us today.

“The shark is the top predator in the sea, it is god of all the fish. Without it, there is no survival for the species in our seas. Without the shark, the wasawasa will be poorer, the coral will disappear, the reefs will disappear, the sand will be disturbed, the fish that we rely on for our meals will run for their lives from predators in the middle of the marine food chain.

“If there is no shark, all these will be affected. What will we eat? What will the world survive on?

“It’s time we united and work together to ensure our survival.”

Coral Reef Alliance and Pew Environment Group meet with Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu (center, bearded), Turaga Na Tui Cakau, in  Somosomo Village, Teveuni Island, Fiji.
The sharkman, as Mr Rasigatale has been dubbed because of his passion for them, made a traditional approach to the Turaga Na Tui Cakau, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, to seek his support for the campaign — led by the Pew Environment Group and the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) — which are working with the Fiji Government to safeguard sharks in Fiji’s waters.

“This relation between man and shark, in the chiefly province of Cakaudrove, is very important. The Turaga Na Tui Cakau stressed the importance of this tie. It is said when twins were born from the yavusa of Ai Sokula, it was decided that they be put into the sea. The one that would turn into a fish would become their god, who is now known as Dakuwaqa.

“The one that would be human would be from where the bloodline of the Ai Sokula would come from.

“When that child was put into a basket, made from leaves, and as it drifted out, his relatives out at sea saw it, took him out and carried him to a stretch of sand where they rested by the trunk of a very large tree that had beached there.

“They didn’t know that this trunk was Dakuwaqa. It was here that Dakuwaqa turned into a shark and escorted them back to land. He became their vu (god) and promised to protect the people of the Ai Sokula when they go out to sea. He would not bite them.”

When the twins were born, hundreds miles away on the island of Beqa, a mataqali of gonedau (fishermen) was alerted.

The clansmen from Rukua Village hurried to Cakaudrove to go and see this special child.

Bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) in Beqa Lagoon
These people from Beqa also had a shark god but they called it the Gone mai wai (child from the sea). The believed this was the same god so they went to Somosomo to visit and stayed.

They became the members of the mataqali Benau, the name of the island drifting off the coast which was also the residence of Dakuwaqa.

The mataqali members from Rukua lived on in Somosomo while the rest remained in Beqa.
“This is their tie. Dakuwaqa and the Gone mai wai are the same.”

The third evidence of our link to the sharks, according to Mr Rasigatale, is in Yanuca Island, Serua.

Legend has it that there was once a discussion between two brothers from the yavusa Nukutabua.

After seeing the destruction of their reefs, the younger brother promised he would look after the reefs and the elder one to look after the land and its people.
The younger brother became a shark and was called Masilaca (meaning his sail was made of masi).

“This shark was related to the same shark that Rukua and the yavusa of Ai Sokula served.”

The Kadavu link to the shark was born out of a challenge Dakuwaqa made to the octopus Bakaniceva on the reef in the bay of Naceva.

“Dakuwaqa wanted to prove to Bakaniceva that he was king of all living things in the sea. Bakaniceva made Dakuwaqa promise that he’d do what he wanted if he lost. So they fought. Bakaniceva then grabbed Dakuwaqa with four of his tentacles and held on to the reef with the other four. Dakuwaqa lost and then agreed that he would not attack anyone from Kadavu when they are at sea.

“From that day, no one from Kadavu has been bitten.

“These four places — Kadavu, Yanuca, Beqa and the people of the Ai Sokula, from the home of theTuraga Na Tui Cakau — are related to the sharks and are never bitten, unless these people have done something wrong and offended the vanua.”

Mr Rasigatale says this special relationship exists today.

When the former President, Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, passed away, sharks escorted his body to his chiefly home in Taveuni. They patrolled the waters off the village.

“The evidence of this mana, this loyalty of the sharks for these people, is amazing.”
For this Rewan shark campaigner, his mission is not over until all Fiji's people know the story of the shark and its link to our survival.

“We need to keep these stories alive, and the sharks alive, so we can better understand what they mean to us, they are our protector.”

Pew, which Mr Rasigatale works for, has pushed for protection of sharks around the world as their population plunges.

It estimated in a study of the Hong Kong shark fin market that humans kill up to 73 million sharks each year simply to supply the fin trade.

Many scientists believe that there are more than 100 million sharks killed annually for fins, meat and other shark products.

The sharkman has lobbied for support from around the country.

Meeting with Ro Teimum Kepa (seated, center), high chief of Burebasaga Confederacy, at her house in Rewa Village, Fiji.
He has traditionally sought the support of the three confedaracies — Kubuna, Burebasaga and Tovata — and was received by Ratu Apenisa Cakobau on Bau, the Marama Bale Na Roko Tui Dreketi in Rewa and Ratu Naiqama.

Meeting with Ratu Epenisa Cakobau, high chief of Bau Village and the Kubuna Confederacy at his house on Bau Island, Fiji.  The table in the foreground was used during the signing of the cession of Fiji to Great Britian in 1874.
He also held discussions with the Ministry of Fisheries and the Ministry of iTaukei “with great success”.

“This is a lot of work and we need to move fast.

“We need to listen to the advice of old — lako vakamalua, vakatotolo (walk fast, with caution).”

Written by Ilaitia Turagabeci and posted in the Fiji Times on Monday, July 18, 2011.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fiji Times: Save the guardian of the sea

This Monday, the Fiji Times will start a series of stories on sharks, and potential shark conservation measures being considered by the government of Fiji. The stories were announced in a front page story in today's paper:

ELEGANT, intelligent, loved and feared.

From the deepest, darkest abyss in the world's oceans to the light-blue waters closer to home, the shark has existed for 415 million years, surviving the changes of time which the dinosaurs, appearing 185 million years later, could not.

Today, these creatures are on the brink of extinction.

The demand for shark's fin, shark meat, liver oil and other products has drastically reduced shark population around the world, including our islands.

The Fiji Times joins a massive campaign led by the Pew Environment Group and The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), which are working with the Fiji Government, to pass permanent protection law to safeguard this ancient predator, whose existence has helped maintain a balance in our marine ecosystems, safeguarding our reefs for our future generations and providing a valuable asset to Fiji's economy. The loss of sharks could cause unpredictable and irreversible damage to the ocean and to economic activities, such as tourism, that benefits from healthy marine habitats.

On Monday, The Fiji Times starts a series on sharks, their relationship with our islands, and why we must maintain a mutual agreement our ancestors made to protect our resources in the seas around us.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Oregon Shark Fin Ban Signed into Law

Governor John Kitzhaber has signed into law HB 2838, banning the possession, sale, offering for sale, trade or distribution of shark fins. The bill was signed in June. Oregon joins American states Hawaii and Washington*, as well as US territories Northern Mariana Islands and Guam in enacting this legislation.

Congrats, Oregon!

The final version of the bill can be found here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

2011 Year of the Shark

Jill Hepp of the Pew Environment Group has said that 2011 is fast becoming the year of the shark. There have been several shark conservation wins in the first half of the year, what do you think has been the most important win? And looking forward to the rest of the year, what do you think we will accomplish in the next six months?

First Regional Protections for Sharks in Eastern Pacific Ocean

Photo: Christophe Jurdan
Oceanic whitetips (Carcharhinus longimanus) were accorded protections by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) at their recently completed meeting in La Jolla, California.  They are the first shark species to receive regional protections in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

IATTC is a regional fisheries managment organization comprised of members representing fishing nations.  They are responsible for managing tuna fisheries in the eastern Pacific Ocean across an area of about 26 million square miles. 

IATTC member nations agreed that all oceanic whitetips must be released when they are captured in tuna-fishing nets and on longlines, a type of fishing gear that sets hooks underwater on a single "long-line" up to 30 miles long.

These protections are a step in the right direction and mimic similar protections given to oceanic whitetips in the Atlantic by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas in November 2010.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species assesses the oceanic whitetip as Vulnerable to extinction.  Furthermore, they are assessed as Critically Endangered in the Northwest and Western Central Atlantic.  The declines are attributed to the ever rising demand for shark fin soup.

Shark Defenders congratulates Japan and the European Union for sponsoring the protections.

Traditions Change, Say NO to Shark Fin Soup

Food and eating habits are often the only vestige of a cultural link many Americans have to their immigrant parents, grandparents, and other forebearers -- often outlasting language.  Most Americans who come from immigrant families understand the arguments that certain types of foods are related to cultural identity.  Who would argue that Italian-American families don't eat a lot of pasta?  Even so, traditions change.  Cultures change.  For example, how many Asian brides wear the traditional red wedding dress today? How many still Asian women still bind their feet? Do people still spit in public?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Shark Week 2011: Shark Fishing Banned in Honduras, Bahamas

Sharks passing through some parts of the Pacific and Caribbean can swim a little easier thanks to new laws recently that create permanent shark sanctuaries. Jorge Ribas reports.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Major Announcement: Bahamas Creates Sanctuary for Sharks

Shark Defenders commends Pew Environment Group, Bahamas National Trust, and the people and government of The Bahamas for passing permanent protections for sharks.

Great shark conservation news today! The Bahamas just announced they are amending existing fishing regulations to prohibit the commercial fishing of sharks in their country’s full Exclusive Economic Zone. The new sanctuary for sharks is the result of a year-long partnership between the Pew Environment Group and the Bahamas National Trust (BNT). They collaborated to work with government officials, build public support for shark protections, produce public service announcements for television, and collect signatures for a petition, which was signed by more than 5,000 Bahamians.

If sharks could talk, they would thank Pew and BNT for their dedication and hard work to protect these important apex predators. Shark Defenders commends Pew, BNT, and the people and government of The Bahamas for taking this important step towards protecting global shark populations. Combined with the forward-thinking, decades-old ban on long line fishing, Bahamian waters are now one of the safest places for a shark to swim.

Please leave a comment on the Protect the Sharks of The Bahamas Facebook Page to thank BNT and Pew on behalf of sharks.

In a news release, Jill Hepp, manager of global shark conservation for the Pew Environment Group, said, “2011 is fast becoming the year of the shark,” She is right. 2011 has seen shark fin bans signed into law in Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and Washington, as well as the closure of shark fishing in Honduras. A bill banning shark fin sits on the Oregon governor’s desk and a similar bill is winding its way through the California State Senate.

These conservation measures are so important for the future of sharks.

For 400 million years, every creature that swam in the ocean had to contend with sharks. This predator-prey relationship has driven evolution, leading to schooling behavior and other unique adaptations, and has resulted in the oceans that we know today. As apex predators, sharks bring balance to the oceans.

Sharks are also important to the economies of many coastal nations. In the Pacific nation of Palau, shark diving brings in approximately US$18 million annually. Shark-related tourism has contributed more than US$800 million to the Bahamian economy since longlining was banned.

Sharks are slow growing, take up to twenty years to reach sexual maturity, and produce few young. As a result, their populations are unable to keep up with the industrial power of modern fishing fleets. 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fins alone, and as a result nearly one third of all shark species are Threatened or Near Threatened with extinction.

Enacting shark fin bans and creating shark sanctuaries will ensure that our oceans have healthy shark populations in the future.

Looking to where the next shark conservation measures may be enacted, last month leaders from across the Western Pacific attending the 30th Association of Pacific Island Legislatures meeting in Palau called for a region-wide ban on the sale, import, export, and possession of sharks and rays. There have also been media reports that the government of Fiji is considering shark protections. You can follow these developments on Facebook at Micronesia Shark Defenders and Fiji Shark Defenders, respectively.

But the spotlight for now needs to be on The Bahamas for their bold move. Congrats and thank you to the Right Honorable Hubert Ingraham, the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, and Lawrence S. Cartwright, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources, as well as the Pew Environment Group and the Bahamas National Trust.
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