Nature Foundation: Shark and ray species globally protected

POSTED: 03/27/13 12:25 PM

St. Maarten – Nearly two years after a historic decision to legally protect sharks and rays in St. Maarten’s territorial waters, sharks and rays have now received international protection, becoming the latest additions to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

The Nature Foundation has also been mentioned for its work to protect the species on St. Maarten. The foundation was not only the catalyst for ensuring legal shark and ray protection on the island, but they are also now spearheading a project to learn more about shark and ray behavior in the marine park and near coastal waters. The foundation is also the Scientific Authority on Cites for St. Maarten.

The World’s Wildlife Conference closed on March 15 with historic decisions and measures to protect not only sharks and rays, but also elephants, rhinos, big cats and precious timber. “170 governments have turned to Cites to ensure the legal, sustainable and traceable trade in, amongst others, five shark species and manta rays,” Secretary-General of Cites, John E. Scanlon said. “This is a big day for Cites and for the world’s wildlife.  It takes enormous effort to negotiate treaties and then make them work.  The international community has today decided to make best use of this pragmatic and effective agreement to help it along the path to sustainability in our oceans and forests.”

The practice of intentionally fishing for sharks has been forbidden on the island since October 12 2011, when the Ministry Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications (TEATT) banned the practice of intentionally poaching sharks in the territorial waters of St. Maarten. The act of trying to catch by  tracking, stalking, baiting, chasing, trapping, hooking, netting, shooting or otherwise hunting –  sharks, rays and skates is prohibited and therefore the animals may not be wounded, caught, landed, or killed. Violators may be punished with jail and a considerable fine may be issued. If Sharks are accidentally caught all steps should be taken to release the animal with as little harm as possible.

The Nature Foundation report is part of a wider shark research project being conducted on St. Maarten which, based on surveys of dive operators and tourist divers, has shown that a single live shark is worth up to $884,000 to the economy of the island, as is opposed to just a few dollars dead. “The majority of divers who come to the island pay top dollar to see sharks in their natural environment. These divers also rent cars, stay in hotels, eat at restaurants and drink in bars. Taking all of that into account and based on research conducted by the foundation a single live shark contributes $884,000 to the economy of St. Maarten annually. Sharks are an apex predator and are essential to the health of local coral reefs. If we do not have sharks we will lose our coral reef ecosystem. Sharks keep the reefs clean of unhealthy fish which in turn keeps the ecosystem in balance,” a statement from the Nature Foundation said.

The foundation and dive operators have also been introducing the invasive Lionfish to sharks in the hope that the animals will control the poisonous fish. “The reputation of sharks as blood thirsty creatures is largely exaggerated by sensationalist reports. Countries all over the world have recognized the importance of these animals and here on St. Maarten we will continue to put shark conservation as a top priority,” concluded the Nature Foundation Report.


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