Photo via fishpickdiver via Flickr CC
Shark finning - the practice of catching sharks, cutting off their fins, and tossing the still-living fish back in the water to die a slow death - removes over 40 million sharks per year from the oceans. Half a million are finned each year in Ecuador alone. Finning aside, humans are responsible for killing 100 million sharks per year, through fishing and by-catch. In other words, the incredibly important apex predator is being hunted into oblivion. That's why this world's first shark sanctuary is a big move forward for protecting them. BBC news reports that Johnson Toribiong, President of Palau, has announced that a sanctuary about 230,000 square miles in total will be established to protect sharks. All commercial shark hunting in their entire Exclusive Economic Zone - about the size of France - will be banned.
"These creatures are being slaughtered and are perhaps at the brink of extinction unless we take positive action to protect them," said President Toribiong. "Their physical beauty and strength, in my opinion, reflects the health of the oceans; they stand out."
We agree and applaud the move. Protecting the sharks in the area will help maintain healthy marine ecosystems. And more importantly, it will help boost populations of the roughly 130 threatened shark species that inhabit the waters around Palau, whose territory encompasses 200 scattered islands.
The problem is, of course, enforcement. With only 20,000 citizens, one patrol boat, and thousands of miles of ocean to monitor, keeping sharks safe is a monumental task. Hopefully, the sanctuary will offer more support for sharks than just words and writing. If it can reduce the number of sharks hunted and if it can inspire other nations to follow suit, then it can be considered a big step forward in ocean conservation.
More on Sharks
No More Shark Soup--Discovery Channel and John Kerry Fight Finning
Scared of Sharks? They Should Be Scared of Us (Video)
Good News For Sharks: Appetite For Shark Fin Soup Down With Greater Awareness & Recession