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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