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Pacific Nation Declares Itself Shark Haven
03/10/09
source : Andrew C Revkin  DOT Earth


The Pacific island nation of Palau has declared all of its waters a sanctuary for sharks. The archipelago, famed among biologists and divers for its rich marine life, has seen increases in illegal shark fishing, driven by the high prices paid for shark fins in China. I met President Johnson Toribiong earlier this week as the United Nations climate summit ended, and he described the problems, which are particularly troublesome in a place where tourism revolving around reef diving is a top source of income. Today, while addressing the U.N. General Assembly, he planned to announce a ban on all commercial shark fishing in Palau’s 242,858-square-mile exclusive economic zone, while also calling for a global moratorium on catching sharks only for their fins. I ran this announcement by Carl Safina, the marine biologist, author and angler who educated me on the merits of “ big old fat female fish” while we were catching and releasing lunker striped bass in late August. He has been to Palau several times in the last two decades and seen both losses and the rich biological diversity that remains. Here’s Dr. Safina’s reaction: This shark sanctuary is very welcome news. Palau has done an outstanding jobs of turning living fish into sustainable cash. Because it early-on banned export of reef fishes, it has some of the best reef fish populations remaining in the world. As reefs deteriorate and get stripped of fish elsewhere, Palau becomes increasingly valuable not just biologically but as a tourist destination, an ongoing cash cow for Palau itself. It is perhaps the best place in the world to see large humphead or Napoleon wrasse, now rare elsewhere. And because certain fish graze algae from coral reefs, overfished reefs elsewhere are overrun with coral-smothering algae. By contrast, Palau’s reefs are not only healthy but actually recovered from widespread coral bleaching in the late 1990s. The bleaching was caused by abnormally hot water related to global warming. In most places, a reef with so many dead corals would have been quickly overrun by algae that would have prevented coral from regaining their foothold. That means the end of coral reefs in some areas. In Palau, the still-abundant fishes suppressed the algae, allowing reefs to recover. Palau’s visionary protection of reefs is a policy of very high value not just to Palau itself, but increasingly, for the rest of the world as well. Given that, for the moment, Palau has only one enforcement vessel to patrol an ocean zone a bit smaller than Texas, the challenge of turning a ban from rhetoric to reality remains. But Palau is getting significant support from private groups, particularly the Pew Charitable Trusts, which worked with groups and government officials in Palau to create the sanctuary plan. E-mail This Print Share Close Linkedin Digg Facebook Mixx My Space Yahoo! BuzzPermalink Twitter Sign in to Recommendendangered species, environmental policy, oceans, conservation, fishing, oceans, pacific, palau, sharks Related Posts From Dot Earth Emptied Mediterranean - Sharks Nearly Gone Shark Week, or Human Week? Is Guilt-Free Bluefin Sushi Nigh? Leviathan on the Move in the Pacific How Much Nature Is Enough? Leatherbacks Linger; Caribbean Monk Seal Gone
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