Monday, August 22, 2011

Fiji Times: Predators on the decline

SHARKS around the world are threatened by overfishing.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources has determined that one third of all sharks are threatened or near threatened with extinction.

Furthermore, nearly half of all species lack enough data to make an accurate assessment of their extinction risk.

The sobering thought of losing sharks forever has prompted many nations to take measures to protect their populations. Coastal nations, especially those in the Pacific, have unique cultural and historical ties to sharks and they have been some of the first to protect them.

"The world must rise with us to protect our oceans and our environment," said President Johnson Toribiong of the Republic of Palau.

"That is the moral obligation of this generation for the benefit of the next."

Palau, Maldives, Honduras, and Bahamas have created shark sanctuaries in recent years, completing closing their waters to commercial shark fishing.

Additionally, last month presidents and governors from countries, states, and territories in Micronesia signed a resolution authorizing the establishment of the world's first regional shark sanctuary. Once implemented, the Micronesia Regional Shark Sanctuary will be more than twice the land area of India, encompassing 6,559,890 km of ocean surrounding the islands of Palau, Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Federated States of Micronesia and its four states, Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae.

With the national shark sanctuary currently under consideration by the government, Fiji will join a growing list of nations that are making efforts to protect sharks.

Not only that, a national shark sanctuary in Fiji would be nearly 1.3 million square kilometers in size.

It would be the first in Melanesia and the first in the Southern Hemisphere.

Several of the Micronesian governments passed shark conservation measures prior to the agreement, including Guam and the Northern Marianas, which banned shark fins earlier this year, and Palau, which created a shark sanctuary in 2009.

The creation of the regional shark sanctuary will make enforcement more cost effective and improve overall effectiveness of individual island's shark protections.

"It is imperative that this movement to protect sharks spread from island to island, nation to nation," said Representative Diego T. Benavente of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

"The shark fin ban in the Northern Marianas was the most important legislation I introduced in my 20-year career as a public servant."

Scientific studies have shown that sharks are important to marine ecosystems.

As apex predators they maintain balance in populations of food fish and reef building corals.

Sharks are also important to the economies of coastal nations and studies have shown they attract millions of dollars as living tourist attractions.

Published in the Fiji Times on Monday, August 22, 2011.

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