Oct 3

The Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean is to ban shark fishing and trade in shark products throughout its waters, creating a sanctuary roughly eight times the size of the UK. 

Oceanic whitetip shark image
Oceanic whitetip shark

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.

Shark finning image

Shark finning will be banned in the new sanctuary

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.

Scalloped hammerhead image

The Endangered scalloped hammerhead

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.

View images and footage of sharks and rays on ARKive.

Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author

  • Doug Norris (October 4th, 2011 at 3:11 am):

    Good on the Marshall Islands for taking a stand. They are probably facing people with the same mentality as those who poach Rhino for their horns who are unlikely to let mere regulations and the threat of fines get in their way.

    To be successful they need international support. I hope that they get it, but would not hold my breath waiting for a world that is more about appeasement than about principles to act.