Friday, January 30, 2015

Barack Obama Upholds CNMI Shark Fin Trade Ban

The federal government has retreated from their attempt to overturn the shark fin trade ban in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.  In a letter dated December 16, 2014, Eileen Sobeck, NOAA assistant administrator for fisheries wrote "CNMI's law will have minimal impact on federally managed fishermen in CNMI...and is therefore consistent with and not preempted by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, as amended by the Shark Conservation Act of 2010."

We've written about this issue extensively over the last few years.  Kudos to President Barack Obama and his officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as CNMI Governor Eloy Inos for coming to a compromise in the best interest of sharks.

And remember those amazing kids on Guam who are trying to uphold their law?  Their law is still under threat and they still need your help.  Below are a few ideas for you to help:

Use social media to get the attention of elected officials: Tweet at Guam Governor, Eddie Calvo (@governorcalvo), and post on U.S. Representative Madeline Bordallo’s Facebook page and ask them to stand up for Guam and our sharks by making sure that NOAA doesn’t wipe out our local shark protections. 

Let NOAA know you want to preserve shark protections: Write to decision makers at NOAA and politely ask them to preserve our local conservation laws.  You can email  Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator.

Write an email to local and national elected officials: Contact Guam Governor, Eddie Calvo and U.S. Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo and ask them to fight to preserve our local shark protections.

Write a letter to the editor.  Write a short (250 words or fewer) letter to your local newspaper to help spread the word about the threat to shark protection laws.  If you need help with talking points, check out this blog.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Real Change Coming to Discovery Channel Shark Week?

Discovery Channel just announced that they are holding Shark Week a month early this year. The annual Superbowl of shark programming will run July 5-12, with an additional weekend of new programming in August.

One wonders if this is part of new president Rich Ross's pledge to rid Discovery programming of man eating anaconda stunts and fake mermaid shows?

Yet they announced they have filmed a sequel to Great White Serial Killer. Shark blogger David Shiffman calls the original "pseudoscientific fearmongering nonsense that should not be getting a sequel" and put it in the category of Worst of Shark Week 2013 in an article for Wired.

We don't want to see more of this crap. Last year we started a campaign for people to protest Discovery's lack of scientific integrity by posting funny fake Shark Week facts using the hashtag #FakeSharkWeekFacts. Hundreds of you responded. Come on Discovery! Your audience wants a #RealSharkWeek, not more #FakeSharkWeekFacts

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.
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