Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Carlotta Testifies for Shark Protections in Yap

Thank you, Mr. Chair for the opportunity to testify today.

My name is Carlotta Leon Guerrero. I am a former senator from Guam and double past president of the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures. I also represented the Pacific on the Pew Ocean Commission, where I worked to make recommendations on US ocean policy. I have worked on marine policy issues for nearly two decades.

I offer my testimony today as one of the leading experts in establishing sustainable shark management in the Pacific. Over the last three years I have worked with the Pew Environment Group to develop policies for protecting sharks in the CNMI, Guam, and RMI. I am currently working with conservationists in Fiji, Kiribati, and FSM on passing similar measures.

Sharks are important to Micronesian culture. In Chamorro we call them Halu’u, and our fishermen have always respected them. The earliest writings by western visitors marveled at how we had no fear of sharks.

I am here today to tell you that sharks are also important for our environment and our economy.

By protecting sharks, they will in turn protect your reefs. As predators and scavengers, they maintain the ecological balance of the marine ecosystem. Remove the sharks and you risk disrupting that delicate equilibrium.

The number one draw for Yap divers are the sharks and manta rays that swim in your waters. While this body has been forwarding thinking in protecting mantas, creating one of the first global sanctuaries for this species, you have not yet acted on sharks. While no economic studies have been completed specific to Yap, your neighbor Palau has quantified the value of the shark diving industry as worth $18 million per year, about 8% of GDP.

By choosing to pass this law Yap will join a growing movement of Pacific people to protect these important animals. I encourage you to implement fines that will adequately deter the economic incentive to fish for sharks. And I encourage you to work together with your neighbors on issues related to enforcement, research, and education.

Carlotta Leon Guerrero is the executive director of the Ayuda Foundation and a former member of the Guam Senate.  The Yap Legislature is holding a public hearing to create a shark sanctuary today. Yap is a part of the Federated States of Micronesia.

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