Shark Sanctuaries

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Healthy ecosystems depend on sharks.  From their direct predation on lower level members of the food chain, to their regulation of populations of other predators, the presence of sharks in our oceans is crucial to maintaining healthy ecosystems.  As an apex predator, sharks are important drivers of biodiversity and their presence indicates a healthy ecosystem. [1] In fact, some pristine coral reef environments even exhibit inverted biomass pyramids - with larger biomass of sharks at the top and lesser biomass of smaller species (fish, in particular) lower down on the food chain.  In one study area, 63% of the all the reef inhabitants were sharks! [2]

Additionally, studies have demonstrated that under certain circumstances, sharks are worth more to local economies alive than they are dead. [3] Many of the world’s shark sanctuaries have been established to support the growing shark viewing industry.  Studies in Palau estimate that a single shark may generate up to $2 million annually in ecotourism benefits, while the fin of a killed shark could be sold just once for a mere $108. [4] In places where sharks frequent, thriving tourism dollars follow. [5]

Unfortunately, regardless of all of the good that they can contribute to healthy ecosystems and human communities, sharks are currently being fished at a pace that far exceeds their ability to reproduce.  Conservative estimates indicate that humans kill about 100 million sharks each year! [6] Many shark species are slow to grow and slow to reproduce, with some species only having pups every other year, or less than 10 pups in a year.  The pace that they are being caught both directly and as bycatch around the world is simply not sustainable. 

Growing awareness of these issues has led to a global push for the establishment of large regional shark sanctuaries.  Typically, shark sanctuaries ban the commercial fishing of sharks, but some are forward-thinking enough to ban all types of shark fishing.  The governments of Congo-Brazzaville, Maldives, French Polynesia, Palau, Israel, and Honduras have banned all types of shark fishing within their territorial waters, including recreational fishing. [7] Some shark sanctuaries have been designated to cover an entire exclusive economic zone (EEZs) and can be difficult for countries with limited resources to monitor and enforce.  Some scientists argue for more selective rules restricting or banning the fishing of threatened species as opposed to blanket “all species” bans.  In some shark sanctuaries, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is prevalent and must be addressed in order to provide sanctuary for sharks and contribute to the health of ocean ecosystems worldwide. [8]-[11]

For a list of current global shark protections visit the Humane Society International list found HERE.

References:

[1] http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1112952338/sharks-critical-to-coral-reef-health-091913/

[2]http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0001548#ack

[3] http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1112861865/sharks-worth-more-alive-than-dead-053113/

[4] http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/expeditions/2013/06/12/an-interconnected-environment-and-economy-shark-tourism-in-palau/

[5] http://mashable.com/2014/07/21/great-white-tourism/

[6] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X13000055

[7] http://www.sharkangels.org/index.php/issues-facing-sharks/laws-protecting-sharks/shark-fishing

[8] http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/sports/illegal-shark-fishing-in-the-mediterranean-on-the-rise-1.412356

[9] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/oct/19/shark-massacre-colombia

[10]http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X12002461

[11] http://www.sharkangels.org/issues-facing-sharks/laws-protecting-sharks/104-does-legislation-really-protect-sharks