The Marshall Islands archipelago is home to just 68,000 people, with tourism, such as diving, being an important part of the economy. Senator Tony deBrum said of the new shark protection bill:
“In passing this bill, there is no greater statement we can make about the importance of sharks to our culture, environment and economy. Ours may be a small island nation, but our waters are now the biggest place sharks are protected.”
The sanctuary, covering nearly two million square kilometres, is larger than the first pioneering shark sanctuary in the waters of the Pacific nation of Palau, which measures 600,000 square kilometres. The new sanctuary brings the total area of ocean in which sharks are protected to around 4.6 million square kilometres.
A third of sharks threatened
Currently, around a third of ocean-going shark and ray species are classified as being threatened with extinction by the IUCN, including the oceanic whitetip and scalloped hammerhead. The main threat facing many shark species is thought to be overfishing, with sharks being taken as bycatch as well as being targeted for their valuable fins.
In the newly established shark sanctuary, commercial shark fishing will be banned, with anyone caught violating the ban facing fines of up to £200,000 (around $310,500). As with other protected areas, the major concern with the new sanctuary will be the policing of such a vast area of ocean.
The new sanctuary is also part of a global call for shark protection, with many countries now recognising the importance of healthy shark populations to the marine ecosystem. The Bahamas has recently banned shark fishing, while Mexico, Honduras, the Maldives and Northern Mariana have all signed a declaration to push for shark conservation.
Read more on the BBC news story – Vast shark sanctuary created in Pacific.
Find out more about shark conservation from the IUCN Shark Specialist Group.
Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author